Bulgaria’s nuclear power drama: A huge mess

Written by on August 15, 2016 in Perspectives - Comments Off on Bulgaria’s nuclear power drama: A huge mess

On April 6 1970, socialist Bulgaria started a huge project. In the northern border town of Kozloduy, engineers and workers starting building reactor no. 1 of what was to become the largest nuclear power plant in the region. Decades later, at some point, the Danube river would cool a total of six operational reactors, making Bulgaria a huge energy producer and exporter in the region.

Out of those six reactors, two are in service right now. Together, they are delivering an output of 2000 Megawatts, more than enough to run a toaster, a microwave and a TV-set in near by Sofia. Those two reactors are working right now, but, all in all, nothing is. The nuclear energy drama in Bulgaria is a huge mess.

Let’s go back some 21 years, to 1995. That year, the U.S. Department of Energy released a report, which singled out “The Ten Most Dangerous NPPs” in the world. Guess which ones had prominent places on that list: Reactors 1 and 2 in Kozloduy.

Since the E.U. did not feel like having another Chernobyl, it pressured Bulgaria into a deal, which made sure those two time bombs were shut down in 2004. Bulgaria desparately wanted to continue running reactors 3 and 4, for that toaster, the microwave and the TV-set. For a while, things looked good, since the IAEA and other organizations provided documentation to Bulgaria, saying those two reactors were good to go for another few years, until 2011 and 2013, respectively.

But Bulgaria wanted to be an E.U. member more than anything. And there was no way the European Commission would accept those reactors on its soil. Reactors 3 and 4 were therefore shut down in December of 2006, just before the new E.U. membership was celebrated. The PA systems for bands playing on Newyear’s night 2007 in front of the NDK, during the E.U. membership celebration, had to be powered by reactors 5 and 6.

Only hours after Bulgaria became an E.U. member, its government asked its new peers in Brussels for an exception. They wanted to play with their toy, even though mother had locked it away. But she was persistent. Europe turned down that request.

Balkanese countries, including Bulgaria, usually do not have a lot of doubts regarding the security of NPPs. So, decisions were taken. A huge project in Belene, further east along the cooling water stream called Danube, was started. The construction of two huge reactors advanced a lot. One of them was finished, the other one half way. But the Belene project was effectively stopped in 2012, for financial reasons, and because neither the E.U., nor the U.S. liked it too much. The builder, a Russian conglomerate called Atomstroiexport, was not exactly happy and sued Bulgaria.

In June of 2016, Bulgaria lost its court case. The country has to pay 550 million Euro to Atomstroiexport. For a sum of that kind, the interest amounts to 167,000 Euro per day. Ouch. What was wrong, now became right. The Borissov government now believes, Belene needs to be built, after all. They are looking for funds. But, extracting some change from any pockets will not cut it. In the meantime, the drama continues, while the invoices are piling up.

The German daily F.A.Z. just had fun depicting Bulgaria’s big nuclear energy drama. They did not forget another part of it: Negotiations between Bulgaria and the American company Westinghouse Electric, on the construction of a new NPP in Kozloduy, failed last year, just like everything else in the story.

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About the Author

Imanuel Marcus is Associate Editor of The Sofia Globe. He is German and lives in Sofia. Contact: imanuelmarcus (at) gmail.com