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Bulgaria pulls plut out of Belene

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace nuclear energy campaigner

Belene will not be constructed, the Bulgarian government announced on March 28. A few days earlier, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said in a TV interview that Belene would never remain just a Russian-Bulgarian project and would not go forward without a  European or American investor. But Finance Minister Simeon Djankov, admitted that Bulgaria has "almost given up on the project." And then, a few days later, the government officially pulled the plug.

Construction of the two 1000MW Belene reactors started on January 1, 1987. And on March 28, 2012, the Bulgarian government confirmed that it officially is stepping out of the project. It will offer the Russian company Rosatom to buy the already produced reactor vessel and heat-exchangers and other big  parts for a reactor in Kozloduy and plans to build a gas power plant in Belene.

The construction of the nuclear power plant by Atomexportstroy, a subsidiary of Russia's state owned Rosatom, had been delayed 15 times. Rosatom had made it clear it is ready to agree on yet another extension of the contract with the Bulgarian government. The currently active extension of the 2006 deal between Bulgaria's National Electric Company NEK and Atomstroyexport was set to expire at the end of March 2012.

The greatest issue over which Bulgaria and Russia had been haggling for the past two years under the Borisov Cabinet was the price of the project, with Russia insisting it should be no less  than 6.3 billion euro, while Bulgaria was demanding a price of no more than 5bn euro (US$ 6.6bn).

After selecting the Russian company Atomstroyexport to build two 1000-MW reactors at Belene and signing a deal for the construction, allegedly for the price of  3.997bn euro, with the Russians in January 2008, in September 2008, former Prime Minister Stanishev gave a formal restart of the building of Belene. At the end of 2008, German RWE was selected as a strategic foreign investor for the plant. But construction was de facto frozen in the fall of 2009 when RWE, which was supposed to provide 2bn euro in exchange for a 49% stake, pulled out.

In mid-March 2011, apparently acting on concerns caused by the situation in Japan's Fukushima nuclear reactor, the European Commission confirmed that it wanted to reexamine the Belene project - once Bulgaria finds an investor for it - even though it already approved it back in 2007.

The project was already canceled once in 1992, after fierce local opposition on environmental grounds and an economic downturn after the fall of communism. When in 2002 plans were revived to construct Belene this again sparked strong local opposition. The situation became especially tense in 2004 when local organic farmer and Greenpeace activist Albena Simeonova received death threats after Greenpeace joined court proceedings against the flawed Environmental Impact Assessment.

PM Borisov a few days after the decision to cancel Belene, in an interview for the weekly political talk show of Darik radio, accused the previous cabinet of the Three-Way Coalition and his predecessor Sergey Stanishev, leader of the opposition left-wing Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP, of not signing the contract on Belene, and leaving the task of burying it to the next government. Borisov stated: "The softest definition I can use for this project is speculation, because it is actually a crime."

Heffa Schücking, from the German NGO urgewald: “The opposition to Belene went international from 2006 onwards when Western potential investors and financiers were approached. We had to fight against RWE as 49% strategic investor, who quit the project in 2009, as well as the involvement of French bank BNP Paribas, which finally withdrew its involvement in 2010. Other banks and utilities we had to pressure to stay out of the project included Deutsche Bank, UniCredit, Citi, E.ON, Electrabel and recently HSBC that acted as advisor to the Bulgarian government. Today is really a huge success and a great achievement for Bulgarian and international civil society.”

HSBC is still preparing a report on the Belene contract. So there might still be unexpected turns and twists in this saga, Jan Haverkamp of Greenpeace warns, but he does not expect a resurrection of the project. "Congratulations to all who helped in this struggle over the last 25 years! We kicked out banks, we challenged the Environmental Impact Assessment for 4,5 years in court, we pushed and pushed for alternatives  (which are being developed in Bulgaria, be it slower than possible). We endured attacks and threats. It was not in vain!"

Sources: Sofia News Agency, 28 March 2012 / Press release Greenpeace, 28 March 2011 / Press release BankTrack, 29 March 2012 / Sofia News Agency, 1 April 2012
Contact: Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace nuclear energy campaigner, expert on energy issues in Central Europe.
Tel: +420 242 482 286
Email: jan.haverkamp[at]