Bulgaria energy strategy includes four new nuclear reactors

19 January 2023

Energy minister Rossen Hristov has set out an energy strategy for 2023 to 2053 for Bulgaria, which includes plans for two new reactors at Kozloduy and two at Belene.

Hristov set out the strategy at the event on Tuesday (Image: Bulgaria's Ministry of Energy)

Hristov, who has been energy minister in the current interim government, took office in August. He outlined the strategy at a round table with President Rumen Radev, Prime Minister Galab Donev and others.

The aim of the energy strategy is for Bulgaria "to remain a leader in the production and export of electricity in the region". It notes that the country's energy industry had exported more than 12 terawatt hours of electricity for about EUR3 billion (USD3 billion) in the past year - "this makes the sector one of the largest exporters in the country" and enabled measures to limit the high electricity prices, demonstrating how "the sector has a serious impact on maintaining the competitiveness of the entire economy".

According to the country's energy ministry: "The implementation of the policies and projects envisaged in the strategy should contribute to the achievement of the European goals for decarbonisation and increasing energy efficiency. Among the main priorities laid down in the document is the implementation of a fair transition to decarbonisation of the affected regions, as well as protection from energy poverty."

The four new reactors would ensure continuation of nuclear energy even after the current two reactors are decommissioned, with Hristov saying Bulgaria had all the prerequisites for the development of nuclear energy with trained staff, traditions, infrastructure and licensed sites.

The strategy sees the continued use of coal to 2030 before reducing its use to zero by 2038 - the timeline is designed to allow the "preservation of energy and national security" with all producers asked "to optimise their activities in order to reduce carbon emissions, so that the longer use of coal does not come into conflict with the European goals for decarbonisation".

The strategy also includes expansion to 7GW of solar and 2GW of wind by 2030 and 12GW of solar and 4GW of wind by 2050, plus 870MW of new hydropower projects by 2030 and 1270MW by 2050. There will also be an expansion of hydrogen production, to reduce natural gas imports, and the introduction of 600MW of battery storage by 2030 and 1.5GW of seasonal storage systems by 2050, according to the BTA news agency. There will also be modernisation of about 2000 kilometres of the electricity transmission network.

Bulgaria's two operating Russian-designed VVER-1000 reactors at Kozloduy - units 5 and 6 - generate about one-third of the country's electricity. Their first grid connections were in 1987 and 1991, respectively, and they have both been through refurbishment and life extension programmes to enable extension of operation from 30 to 60 years. Kozloduy 1-4 reactors were VVER-440 models which the European Commission had classified as non-upgradeable and Bulgaria agreed to close them down during their negotiations to join the European Union in 2007.

The Belene project in northern Bulgaria has been for the construction of two 1000 MWe units, using Russian VVER-1000 designs. Preliminary site works began in 2008, and contracts for components including large forgings and I&C systems were signed with suppliers, but the project was stymied by financing problems and was suspended in 2012. In 2019, the then government advertised for a strategic investor to participate in the Belene project to build two large reactors, but said that neither funding guarantees nor long-term electricity sales contracts would be offered.

In January 2021, the Bulgarian Council of Ministers approved plans for a seventh unit at Kozloduy and said discussions had been held with the USA’s Westinghouse about making maximum use of the Russian-supplied equipment already purchased for the Belene project, which was at the time said to be worth about BGN1.3 billion (USD810 million). Last week, Bulgaria’s National Assembly voted by 112 to 45, with 39 abstentions, in favour of a draft decision asking ministers to negotiate with the US government for the new AP1000 unit at Kozloduy and urged action by 1 March to speed up the process for approval and construction of the unit as well as initiating a licensing and environmental impact assessment procedure for another reactor, which would be unit 8 at Kozloduy.

The country has had four elections in two years which have so far failed to produce a permanent government. The left-of-centre BSP was asked earlier this week to see it if it could put together a big enough coalition to form a government, after two other parties failed in their efforts to do so.

In a speech this week setting out the record of his interim government Prime Minister Galab Donev highlighted energy policy, saying: "In conditions of an energy crisis ... without a strategic document that sets clear goals for the development of the sector, every government will resemble a person in a dark room looking for the key to the light." 

Researched and written by World Nuclear News