Bulgaria to pick strategic investor for Belene nuclear project

Bulgaria to pick strategic investor for Belene nuclear project
The town of Belene on the Bulgarian bank of the Danube.
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia March 11, 2019

Bulgaria’s energy ministry said on March 11 it has invited interested bidders to express interest in becoming a strategic investor in the project to build the Belene nuclear power plant.

The Bulgarian government currently plans to re-launch the Belene nuclear power plant project and is looking for foreign investors. The government’s strategy aims to secure construction of Belene within 10 years at a cost of up to €10bn.

Within the procedure, interested parties could also express interest in acquiring minority stakes in the future project company, as well as to buy electricity produced by Belene.

Sofia has already said that it will seek several types of investors in the project – a strategic investor who will give cash for the project, the Bulgarian state that will participate with already acquired equipment, and investors who will be consumers of the produced electricity. Among those already interested are nearby countries North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, as well as Russia’s Rosatom.

Bulgaria will participate in the project with an in-kind contribution of assets, including the land, equipment it has already purchased from Rosatom, and documents.

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 Atomstroyexport (a unit of Rosatom), which had won the contract to build the power plant and already started work. 

Last year Belene’s revival united the ruling coalition comprised of GERB and the United Patriots with the main opposition in parliament, the Socialist Party (BSP), but raised serious concerns among economic analysts and opposition parties outside parliament about the viability of the project and the true reasons for its restart.

In November the European Commission noted it was considering that Bulgaria has to start the whole procedure from the scratch, as it sees it as a completely new project, not a resumption of a previous one.

Petkova has said that the government will probe the real interest of potential investors in the project and an investor should be picked by the end of 2019.

Four international companies, including China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC), Rosatom, and companies from France and Korea, have shown interest in the construction of the Belene plant, Petkova said in November.

According to Democratic Bulgaria, 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.