'Yes' vote for Bulgarian nuclear

28 January 2013

Voters in Bulgaria's referendum have chosen a path of nuclear development for the country's future, although the matter remains with a government that is yet to commit to Belene or an alternative plan for Kozloduy.

It was around ten years ago that Bulgaria opened a tender for two new reactors at the Belene site in the north of the country - and six years ago that AtomStroyExport of Russia was selected as the supplier. The project was meant to replace lost generating capacity after early shutdowns at Kozloduy and restore Bulgaria's status as a regional energy exporter. However, the Belene project has continually faltered, with the withdrawal of RWE as an investor in 2009 and disputes with Rosatom over pricing.

The debate continues on Bulgaria's energy future, with political parties still discussing who is to blame for the stalling of plans for Belene and the government forwarding ideas to shift the new build from Belene to Kozloduy. Rosatom maintains a firm position that the project is contracted and should go ahead, but such has been the delay that major components originally meant for Belene have been used at Kalinin 4.

The official notice of the referendum reminded participants that the country's energy policy of June 2011, 'declared its support for the development of nuclear energy... in search of a reasonable balance between available energy resources in the country and European targets for clean energy.' It also said that, 'decisions on the specific socio-economic, technical and financial parameters of each project are the responsibility of the council of ministers'.

A referendum on 27 January has somewhat reaffirmed Bulgaria's desire for nuclear energy with 61% of voters saying 'yes' to building a new nuclear power plant in the country in a yes-no vote. The turnout of just 21% was far below the 60% required for the result to be binding, but above the 20% required to trigger official debate and consideration in parliament. Public support for nuclear has been seen as strong in Bulgaria, given a longstanding campaign to restart reactors at Kozloduy that even saw people take to the streets during a gas shortage in January 2009.

The referendum was the intiative of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which began the Belene project when in power and mobilized 770,000 supporters to campaign for a 'yes' result. Party leader Sergey Stanishev billed the referendum as the country taking a choice to be either a nation of 'engineers' or a nation of 'shepherds'.  

Options and partners

Prime minister Boyko Borisov of the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party recently visited Austria, which has long held anti-nuclear policies. Standing alongside Erwin Pröll, the governor of Lower Austria, he declared energy efficiency to be a major priority for Bulgarian infrastructure and an 'alternative' to nuclear power in terms of meeting immediate demand. The pair then began talks on exploration for gas and commercial cooperation on the Nabucco gas pipeline, which would provide a route for natural gas imports from eastern Turkey to a distribution hub in Austria, passing through Bulgaria on the way.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News