Bulgaria’s parliament votes to revive Belene project

Bulgaria’s parliament votes to revive Belene project
MPs from Bulgaria's main political parties voted in favour of reviving Belene.
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia June 7, 2018

Bulgaria’s parliament voted on June 7 to restart the Belene nuclear power plant projects despite warnings by economists that building the new power plant is expensive and unnecessary.

172 of Bulgaria's 240 MPs backed the restart of Belene, with only 14 voting against it and two abstentions. Belene’s revival has united the ruling coalition comprising of Gerb and the United Patriots and the main opposition in parliament, the Socialist Party (BSP), and raised serious concerns among economic analysts and opposition parties outside parliament about the viability of the project and the true reasons for its restart.

According to the voted decision, parliament has ordered Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova to seek options for the construction of Belene NPP with a strategic investor and without state obligations to secure a preferential price to purchase the electricity produced by Belene, without any other preferential conditions or corporate guarantees.

A day before the parliament’s vote, several employers unions demanded that lawmakers guarantee that the project would be transparent and follow market principles.

Four organisations of employers - the Confederation of Employers and Industrialists in Bulgaria (KRIB), the Bulgarian Industrial Association, the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association - issued a public position on June 6, stating that so far the government has not committed to avoid the project being implemented according to non-market principles.

The employers wanted guarantees that the investor in Belene will not get a preferential price for its electricity or any other commitments from the state-owned energy companies that would give Belene's investor an advantage.

They also proposed to the government to set up a public company that would be listed on the bourse to get higher capital, and then to allow investors to implement the project. The electricity produced by Belene should be sold via the electricity exchange, the organisations also said.

Plans to build the Belene power plant were scrapped in 2012, but Sofia was forced to reconsider after Bulgaria was ordered to reimburse over €600mn to Russia’s Atomstroyexport, which had won the contract to build the power plant and already started work. Since then, the project to build the country’s second nuclear power plant has been in limbo.

According to Democratic Bulgaria, a newly-established coalition of opposition parties, the cost of Belene’s construction would be at least BGN21bn (€10.7bn), an expense that would seriously threaten Bulgaria’s economic stability. The country has so far spent over BGN3bn on Belene.

Economists claim that Bulgaria does not need the new power plant, which if completed will have two 1,000 MW reactors. While it was initially seen as a replacement for the ageing Kozloduy nuclear power plant, in January 2016 Kozloduy signed a contract to extend the lifespan of its two remaining reactors until 2049.