Bulgarian parliament approves restart of Belene investor talks

08 June 2018

The Bulgarian parliament, the National Assembly, yesterday mandated the country's energy minister to resume the search for investors in the construction of a second nuclear power plant at Belene. The National Assembly has thus recommended that the Council of Ministers reverse the 29 March 2012 decision to abandon the Belene project amid difficulties at that time in attracting investors.

The National Assembly said the mandate implies the plant would be built in collaboration with a strategic investor based on market principles and without a government guarantee. The assets and liabilities of the project would be owned and managed by the project company, it added.

"The resolution requires the Energy Minister to organise, coordinate and supervise negotiations with potential investors and equipment manufacturers, take action to devise a procedure for selecting a strategic investor, and propose ways to structure the project by 31l October 2018," it said.

The resolution, moved by the ruling coalition of GERB and the United Patriots, was passed by a vote of 172 in favour, 14 against and 2 abstentions.

According to the Bulgarian News Agency, Alexander Nenkov of the GERB party has warned against making assumptions about the mandate.

"We should not act prematurely, and we should not trumpet about restarting the project," Nenkov said. "We are not restarting anything. We are giving a mandate for studies in the next five months to probe investors' interest. If future investors have serious intentions and see considerable economic and financial potential, they will be inclined to take a greater risk as is stipulated in our conditions for the negotiations."

The project could only be restarted once the moratorium on the Belene project, also imposed on 29 March 2012, is lifted. The National Assembly also voted yesterday 74-40, with 81 abstentions, to defeat a draft resolution proposed by the opposition BSP For Bulgaria parliamentary group, which had aimed to lift the parliament's moratorium on the Belene project.

According to the same news agency, Valentin Nikolov (GERB) said: "Of course, we have to revoke the National Assembly resolution [of 2012], but when is the right moment to do that? The right moment is after the Council of Ministers revokes its own decision, because we supported it". He added: "If Belene is meant to become a fact, it will happen at the right moment - when other electricity generating capacities are shut down."

Roumen Gechev (BSP For Bulgaria) said in response: "Why were you so slow in realising that the Belene project is economically feasible?"

Bulgaria's National Electricity Company NEK awarded Russia's Atomstroyexport (ASE) the contract to build two 1000 MWe reactors at Belene, on the Danube River near the Romanian border, in 2006.

In February 2013, after the resignation of the Bulgarian prime minister and cabinet, parliament confirmed that the project would be abandoned in favour of building a new unit at Kozloduy. However late in 2014, following an election, the matter was again under consideration. Then, in June 2016, the International Court of Arbitration ruled in favour of ASE over its claim for compensation for the cost of equipment it had produced for the Belene project.

Last month, the Bulgarian Cabinet announced it had recommended to the National Assembly that it vote on lifting the moratorium on the Belene project. Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said on 16 May that the project would be restarted, following the visit to Bulgaria the previous week of representatives of China National Nuclear Corporation, which has said it is interested in building the plant. Borissov had said he wanted the mandate from the National Assembly before Bulgaria hosts an annual summit of leaders from 16 central and eastern European countries and China in July.

Focus News Agency cited Minister of Energy Temenuzhka Petkova as telling reporters after the National Assembly's vote yesterday that the decision taken by parliament in 2012 had supported the actions of the government at that time.

"The decision taken today is the new will of the Bulgarian Parliament," she said.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News