Sofia Approves Construction of Belene Nuclear Plant


The Bulgarian government has approved the construction of the country's second nuclear power plant, with a total installed capacity of 2,000 megawatts. The first of two reactors is expected to become fully operational in 2011.

By Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times in Sofia -- 18/04/05

Construction of the Belene nuclear power plant was launched in 1986 but suspended in 1991 due to financial problems and pressure from environmental groups. [AFP]

The Bulgarian government on 7 April gave the go-ahead for construction of the country's second nuclear power plant. The project, initially launched in 1986 but suspended in 1991 due to financial problems and pressure from environmental groups, is expected to ensure Bulgaria's leading role on the regional power market following the planned shutdown of two Soviet-era reactors at the Kozloduy nuclear plant in December 2006.

The plant, which will have two units, each with an installed capacity of 1,000 megawatts, will be built at the town of Belene on the Danube River, about 250km northeast of Sofia. Its construction will cost Bulgaria an estimated 2.5 billion euros, making it the largest investment project in the country in the last 15 years and, according to the government, in the next 10 years as well.

"The decision opens the way to launch a tender for a contractor. This will be done in not more than 30 days," Energy Minister Miroslav Sevlievski told reporters after the government's decision.

According to Reuters, two groups are contending for the bid. One consists of France's Framatome and Russia's Atomstroiexport, while the other comprises the Czech Republic's Skoda Praha, Citibank, Italy's Unicredito and Czech Komercni Banka. A third consortium, led by Canada's Atomic Energy Canada Ltd, has dropped out of contention because the light water technology to be used at the plant is incompatible with Canadian CANDU-type reactors.

The winning bidder is unlikely to be announced before the Bulgarian parliamentary elections on 25 June. Actual implementation of the project is expected to begin in 2006, with the first of the two reactors becoming fully operational in 2011.

"The construction of the Belene nuclear power plant will influence significantly the labour market in northern Bulgaria," the government said in a statement. "It will contribute to an increase of the average working wage and will reduce unemployment in the region by nearly 50 per cent, as the plant is expected to create nearly 1,000 job positions for specialists."

But the project continues to have its opponents. The key concern among environmental groups is that the plant will be located in a seismically active area. Some economists consider such a large-scale investment unwise, while opposition parties' object to the timing of the government's decision, which effectively makes it part of the pre-election campaign.