Russia eyes Bulgarian power plant

SOFIA (Reuters) – Russia said yesterday it would offer to complete the construction of Bulgaria’s second nuclear power plant at Belene, aimed at compensating for a planned early closure of old reactors at its existing plant in Kozloduy. Bulgaria, the main power exporter in the Balkans, seeks to keep its leading position after shutting, as promised, four of the Soviet-design Kozloduy’s six 3,760-megawatt reactors, which produce 45 percent of the country’s power. «Russia is interested in the construction of the new power plant and we will offer our projects to the Bulgarian side. We are aware that there will be competition,» Russia’s Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev told reporters. Bulgaria said last month it planned to resume building the plant in Belene, 250 km (160 miles) north of Sofia, and was in talks with Canadian, Russian and US companies, trying to secure the investment of $2 billion needed to finish the job. «Once Bulgaria announces its parameters, Russia will be ready to take part,» said Rumyantsev, who is on a brief visit to Sofia. The decommissioning of the old reactors at Kozloduy, dubbed by the European Union as unsafe, is a key pledge in Bulgaria’s accession talks with the Union, which it is striving to join. Bulgaria bowed to EU pressure in 2000 and agreed to shut down Kozloduy’s two oldest 440-megawatt reactors, Nos. 1 and 2, before 2003. It is still not clear when it will close the other two 440 MW reactors, Nos. 3 and 4. According to a 1999 deal with the European Commission, Bulgaria should close them before 2008 and 2010, respectively, but in the last two annual reports on Bulgaria the Commission insisted it should be in 2006 at the latest. Most officials in Sofia say the two reactors have been modernized to be safe, and Bulgaria, which covers 45 percent of the region’s power deficit, cannot afford to close them so early. A final decision over the closure of Kozloduy’s reactors Nos. 3 and 4 will be made after negotiations with the European Commission at the end of this year. The building of the 1,000-megawatt Soviet-designed Belene plant began in the 1980s and 40 percent of the construction works worth $1 billion have been completed. Also, 40 percent of the main equipment, including a reactor, have been supplied to Belene. But work was halted in 1990 due to a lack of cash and environmental protests.