Bulgaria invites 5 companies to file binding bids for Belene nuclear project

Bulgaria invites 5 companies to file binding bids for Belene nuclear project
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia December 19, 2019

Bulgaria’s energy ministry said on December 19 it has invited five companies to submit binding offers in the tender to select a strategic investor for the construction of the Belene nuclear power plant.

Plans to build the Belene NPP were scrapped in 2012, but Sofia was forced to reconsider after Bulgaria was ordered to reimburse over €600mn to Atomstroyexport (a unit of Russia’s Rosatom), which had won the contract to build the power plant and had already started work.

The government in Sofia hopes to finish the project within 10 years at a cost of up to €10bn.

13 companies have sent letters of interest to the energy ministry for the relaunch of the project. Bulgaria shortlisted China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, Russia's Atomenergoprom, a subsidiary of Rosatom, France's Framatome and US-based General Electric, the energy ministry said in a statement.

Invitations to submit binding offers will be sent to the shortlisted candidates by the end of January 2020.

Framatome and General Electric were selected as they have proposed to supply equipment for the project and arrange its financing.

General Electric is interested in structuring the project’s financing and to participate as a designer and a supplier of equipment for turbine control room, compressors, transformers and other pieces of equipment. Framatome wants to participate in the structuring of the project’s financing for safety systems, including electrical ones as well as control systems.

Neighbouring North Macedonia has said it was interested in acquiring a minority stake in Belene and signing an electricity purchasing agreement. An interest in minority participation in the NPP was also received from Bulgarian companies Atomenergoremont AD and Grand Energy Distribution EOOD.

Bulgaria started planning the new nuclear power plant long before the current emphasis on reducing carbon emissions began and was virtually forced into resuming it by the ruling it had to pay Atomstroyexport. 

Today, however, Bulgaria joins a growing number of countries that are looking to nuclear energy to reduce carbon emissions and improve their energy security. 

Earlier this month, the new EU Commission set a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 to avoid a climate disaster, but the target has proven controversial as the only way to get there is to ramp up the role nuclear power plays in producing Europe’s electricity. 

However, there are still questions about the Belene project's viability. The decision to revive Belene, backed by the ruling coalition comprised of GERB and the United Patriots as well as the main opposition in parliament, the Socialist Party (BSP), raised serious concerns among economic analysts and opposition parties outside parliament about the viability of the project and the true reasons for its restart.