(January 17, 2003) On 31 December 2002 the first two old units of the Bulgarian Kozloduy - one of the most dangerous nuclear plants in the world - were shut down after 10 years of demands for their closure from the G-7, the EU and local campaigners. However, a court has blocked plans to close units 3 and 4 in 2006.
(581.5480) CEIE - The first agreement between the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Bulgarian Government envisaged that units 1 and 2 be closed in 1997 and units 3 and 4 in 1998. Though the funding of the Nuclear Safety Account was fully disbursed and invested in different measures for temporary safety upgrades, the closure didn't happen due to resistance from Bulgarian officials, lack of investments in rehabilitation of other power stations or construction of new ones as well as ignorance of energy efficiency measures.
The will of the Bulgarian government to start accession negotiations with the EU led to the Memorandum of Understanding signed in November 1999. This required closure of units 1 and 2, but specified that agreement on the closure of units 3 and 4 must be reached in 2002. The EC maintains its position that units 3 and 4 must close in 2006, while the Bulgarian government argues for closure dates of 2008 and 2010 for units 3 and 4 respectively. At the end of the day the Government agreed to close units 3 and 4 in 2006 but asked the EU for a peer review in 2003 to say whether the upgrades made during last years brings the safety up to an acceptable level.
BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT REVIVES BELENE PROJECTOn its last session on 19 December 2002, the Bulgarian government decided to unfreeze the construction of a second nuclear power plant situated around the small town of Belene. The construction of Belene NPP was started in mid-1980s but was stopped after mass protests from the citizens of nearby town of Svishtov. Svishtov was one of the worst affected towns in Bulgaria from the big earthquake in March 1977, centered in Vrancea (Romania).
The governmental decision follows a statement of the Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha during the spring of 2001 in response to the closure of old units 1-4 at Kozloduy NPP. The most important decision - what type of reactor should be used (the initially proposed VVER-1000, a new Russian 600 MW, CANDU or another type) - has not been taken yet. It is not clear whether the construction will continue with one or two reactors at the same time. In addition, a number of analyses have to be done before the real construction work starts: an EIA, analysis of the seismic risks, analyses of the alternatives, etc. are still missing. The financing is also a big problem. Some estimations says that even the cheapest option, to continue with VVER-1000, will cost not less than 1.8 - 2 billion Euros (US$1.9 - 2.1 billion) for the first unit only.
Many Bulgarian NGOs are questioning the need for the construction of new nuclear units. The nuclear waste problem remains unsolved in Kozloduy and would increase with the new plant. There is no evidence that the investment would be financially and economically viable. According to an analysis of Atomenergoproject (Russia) from 1997 the cost of electricity production from Belene NPP would be 7 US cents per kWh while the electricity price in Bulgaria now is about 6 US cents for the population. The long-term contract for electricity export to Turkey is based on a price 3,55-4 US cents/kWh.
Meanwhile, in the beginning of 2003 the Supreme Administrative Court of Bulgaria (SAC) took a decision on the appeal of several Bulgarian lawyers and MPs from the Bulgarian Socialist Party (former communists). Following their pro-Russian policy, the socialists made in 2001-2 several attempts to stop the closure of units 1-4, including collection of signatures, vote against the government, court appeal, etc. The SAC said that the decision of the Government for units 3 and 4 was taken in contradiction with the decision of the Parliament in July 2002.
The protests aimed at saving the dangerous old units at Kozloduy NPP started in early 2001 and were backed by a number of pro-Russian politicians who want a good reason to attack the government, desiring a crisis that could lead to a change of power. They were supported by several academicians and intellectuals, some of them well known for their communist background. Gradually, the media took the same position and claimed that this is "the nationally responsible one". No opposite opinion was published or broadcast during the last 2 years. In the same time the government of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (the former king who became Prime Minister in 2001) was unable to communicate properly with the public due to number of reasons some of them linked to the lack of knowledge about the case.
The campaign got strong support from abroad - claims by representatives of Russia and international nuclear organisations that Kozloduy units 1-4 were safe were very welcome in the Bulgarian media. But in the end, a few months before the Copenhagen summit, the government decided to close units 3 and 4 in 2006 in exchange of an "road-map" for Bulgaria's accession in 2007.
It is expected now that the government will lodge an appeal against the SAC judgement. There are several possibilities of how to proceed depending of the result of that appeal, but the less probable option is for the government to step back from its decision. If this happens it would lead to a real crisis in the relations with EU and would touch some sensitive areas such as the negotiation process, pre-accession funding and the Euratom loan for Kozloduy units 5 and 6.
Source and contact: Centre for Environmental Information & Education
Sofroniy Vratchanski Str. 17A, 3 floor, app. 9, 1303 Sofia, Bulgaria
Tel./Fax: +359 2 9892785