Bulgaria, Russia Strike Moratorium Deal on on Belene Nuclear Project
Bulgaria and Russia have reached an agreement to sign next week a 3-month moratorium on the project to build a second Nuclear Power Plant in Bulgaria's Danube town of Belene.
The moratorium will be in place until the exact price of the NPP is calculated, a full assessment of seismology risks is prepared, and all other debatable issues are cleared, Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, announced.
Bulgaria's Minister of Economy and Energy, Traicho Traikov, informed earlier that the technical committee on Belene had asked Russia 30 new questions after the incident at the Fukushima NPP in Japan, damaged by the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Traikov also said Bulgaria is going to request from the contractor additional safety guarantees, which must be confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the European Commission.
Until the end of 2011, the Energy Ministry would examine and assess in collaboration with IAEA the safety of Belene to include risks from fires, floods, earthquakes, and technology-related dangers.
In November 2010, shortly after a visit to Sofia by Russian PM Putin, Bulgaria's National Electric Company NEK and Russian state company Rosatom signed a memorandum providing for a final fixed price for the two reactors of EUR 6.298 B.
This sum is still not final since the document is not binding; a final binding agreement for the establishing of a joint company for Belene was expected to emerge in 4-5 months, according to Rosatom head Sergey Kirienko, who was in Sofia to sign the document.
In early March 2011, as the negotiations continued to drag on, Rosatom's Komarev and spokesperson Sergey Novikov warned that the talks must be completed by March 31, 2011.
The other non-binding documents on Belene signed in November 2010 provided for participation in the project of Finnish company Fortum with a share of 1%, and of French company Altran Technologies with a share of 1%-25%. NEK is to keep a majority share of 51%, while Rosatom is also expected to have a share of 25%.
Serbia has expressed interest in acquiring a share of 5%-10% but the talks for that have not been finalized yet. It is unclear what share Areva might go for if it ultimately decides to seek participation in Belene.
After it was first started in the 1980s, the construction of Bulgaria's second nuclear power plant at Belene on the Danube was stopped in the early 1990s over lack of money and environmental protests.
After selecting the Russian company Atomstroyexport, a subsidiary of Rosatom, to build a two 1000-MW reactors at Belene and signing a deal for the construction, allegedly for the price of EUR 3.997 B, with the Russians during Putin's visit to Sofia in January 2008, in September 2008, former Prime Minister Stanishev gave a formal restart of the building of Belene. At the end of 2008, German energy giant RWE was selected as a strategic foreign investor for the plant.
The Belene NPP was de facto frozen in the fall of 2009 when the previously selected strategic investor, the German company RWE, which was supposed to provide EUR 2 B in exchange for a 49% stake, pulled out.
Subsequently, in the last months of the Stanishev government in early 2009, Putin offered Bulgaria a Russian state loan of EUR 4 B, which ex PM Stanishev refused.
In late 2009, after the Borisov government took over, Rosatom offered Bulgaria a loan of EUR 2 B so that the construction can continue, in exchange for a stake in the future plant that the Bulgarian government could then buy out by returning the money. The offer was refused by the Borisov Cabinet which also made it clear it would construct the Belene plant only if an European (apparently meaning EU or Western European) strategic investor can be found.
Under Bulgaria's preliminary contract with Atomstroyexport signed in 2008, the construction of the Belene plant with two 1000-MW VVER nuclear reactors is supposed to cost EUR 3.997 B.
As the contract expired on September 30, 2010, Bulgaria and Russia decided to extend it by 6 months until they reach a final agreement on how much the construction of the Belene NPP will cost.
In mid November, the Bulgarian Energy Holding, NEK's parent company, picked HSBC, one of UK's biggest banks, for a consultant to help it decide how to proceed and attract new investors for the planned Belene nuclear power plant.
In February 2011, Bulgarian PM Borisov held talks with the French holding Areva over Belene.
The Areva Holding together with Siemens is actually already involved in the construction of Belene as a subcontractor to Russian state company Atomstroyexport.
In mid-March 2011, apparently acting on concerns caused by the situation in Japan's Fukushima NPP after the recent devastating earthquake there, the European Commission confirmed that it wants to reexamine the Belene NPP project - once Bulgaria finds an investor for it - even though it already approved it back in 2007.
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