EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT DISMISSES CALL FOR "FLEXIBILITY"
(December 15, 2006) The European Parliament stopped on 30 November attempts from Bulgarian and pro-nuclear politicians to create uncertainty about the final closure date of the Kozloduy blocks 3 and 4. With 269 against 264 votes, the Parliament reiterated its call on Bulgaria to close the two blocks before Bulgaria's EU accession on 31 December 2006 midnight.
(650.5767) WISE Czech Republic - Parliament rapporteur on Bulgaria, British MEP Geoffrey van Orden, tabled a text in Bulgaria's EU accession progress report in which he called for flexibility concerning Kozloduy 3 and 4's closing dates. A few days before the EP plenary threw out the text, the Foreign Commission had accepted it, which was extensively covered and celebrated in the Bulgarian press. Already in March of this year, van Orden tried to smuggle a similar text in his progress report. Also this text was voted out by the plenary of the European Parliament.
When talks about EU accession started with Bulgaria in 1998, the country had to promise to close its four VVER 440/230 reactors in Kozloduy as they were considered too unsafe for upgrading. The EU allowed, nevertheless, a phase-out time provided that certain upgrades would be carried out. End 2002, the blocks 1 and 2 were taken from the grid, switched off and mothballed.
Irreversible closing of block 1 and 2
Many Bulgarian politicians and people from the nuclear energy sector, including consecutive directors of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant, did not like the closure of the reactors and sometimes secretly, sometimes very vocally even held hopes for a re-start of the blocks 1 and 2 as soon as Bulgaria would have entered the EU. Last summer, however, the European Commission heavily criticised Bulgaria for not making the closure of block 1 and 2 irreversible and Bulgaria had to promise steps to do so. A request by Greenpeace for information on concrete measures last September was refused and is currently awaiting court decision. On 7 December, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency in Bulgaria amended the operation licences of block 1 and 2 so that certain vital components can be removed from the reactor. It is not clear, however, whether this would constitute an irreversible closure.
MEPs as lobby
The Bulgarian media give the impression that there has been a years long debate about whether final closure of Kozloduy 3 and 4 should be postponed. Inspection visits of IAEA and WENRA (a non-governmental organisation comprised of the Heads and senior staff members of Nuclear Regulatory Authorities of European countries) were said to have declared the reactors safe enough to operate for a longer time, even though the relative superficial inspections only gave conclusions about operability on that moment. Every visit or sentence from pro-nuclear MEPs like former Scottish Social Democrat MEP Tony Wynn in favour of Kozloduy found wide attention in the Bulgarian media. Voices from, amongst others, Green MEPs during their visits to Bulgaria were hardly covered, if at all. They argued that Kozloduy closure postponement had no chance because it would need a change in the Accession Treaty, an act that needs unanimous support from all present 25 EU Member States. Several countries would veto any prolongation of the lifetime of these dangerous reactors. The distorted media attention lead to a ground-swell in public opinion believing that the European Parliament could and would keep Kozloduy open.
After Wynn left the Parliament after the last elections, his torch was taken over by EPP-ED fraction (Christian Democrats, by far the largest political group in the EP) members Finnish MEP Eija-Riitta Korhola and Slovenian nuclear lobbyist Romana Jordan Cizelj, and the Socialist Edit Herczog from Hungary.
Panic in the Balkans
The last months saw a spreading panic in the entire Balkan region, allegedly because closure of Kozloduy 3 and 4 would lead to energy shortages. In order to prevent unrest in Bulgaria itself, Energy and Economy Minister Rumen Ovcharov reported that there would be no problem for Bulgaria, but that Bulgaria's electricity export clients Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece might suffer. Macedonia's grid operator MEPSO picked up the argument, diverting attention from its own grid management problems.
In Bulgaria itself a heated debate ensued about whether the closure of Kozloduy 3 and 4 would lead to price increases. On 6 December, the head of the state energy regulator told that prices for households will remain unchanged until July.
Turkey seeking Bulgarian electricity imports
Turkey approached Bulgaria to buy electricity from 2007. It offer as much as 5,7 cent/kWh. It is as to date unclear whether Bulgaria is going to export to Turkey next year or not. If so, this might be a shift of export capacity from the Balkan countries to the East because of price reasons.
Fishing for money
Some observers state that the games around Kozloduy 3 and 4 are played in order to get support for the Belene NPP project, possibly in the form of a Euratom loan. Others point at the requests now made by the Bulgarian government for higher compensation for the "loss" of Kozloduy 3 and 4. Where others would argue that Bulgaria has received already a very lucrative bonus with the EU permission to run the outdated Kozloduy reactors for the last eight years while exposing its population and the rest of Europe to risk, Bulgarian authorities with the help of IAEA calculations argue that Kozloduy could have given Bulgaria still hundreds of millions Euro of income if allowed to continue running even further. They try to claim this from the EU.
Concluding it has to be noted that Bulgaria and its electricity clients had eight years to prepare for Kozloduy 3 and 4's closure. The fact that Bulgaria could export electricity over the last years was mainly because replacement capacity for Kozloduy 1 to 4 was timely developed. The games in the European Parliament and the panic on the last moment seems to be created with other aims in mind. One thing we probably can be sure of: each glitch in the grid in the coming months or even years will probably be blamed on Kozloduy's closure and not on failing grid management.
Source and contact: Jan Haverkamp, consultant for WISE Czech Republic. Nad Borislavkou 58, CZ - 160 00 Praha 6, Czech Republic.
tel./fax (home): +420.2.3536 1734 / mobile: +420.603 569 243