First television debate scheduled for Bulgaria’s referendum on nuclear energy

Public broadcaster Bulgaria National Television will host the first television debate on January 9 2013 on the country’s forthcoming referendum on the future of nuclear power in the country.

Eighteen days ahead of the January 27 referendum, the debate will be broadcast after the 6pm news.

The referendum asks voters whether they approve of further development of nuclear energy capacity. It will require a minimum voter turnout of about 4.3 million to be valid.

The referendum is a sequel to dramas in 2012 about the future or otherwise of the long-planned Belene nuclear power station project.

Bulgaria’s centre-right GERB party Cabinet said in March 2012 that it was abandoning the Belene project because of the excessively high projected cost and lack of a strategic investor.

Although it has flip-flopped on the issue, GERB is set to campaign for a no vote on January 27. The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, long an advocate for the Russian-linked project, is campaigning for a yes vote, having initiated in 2012 the petition for a referendum on Belene.

Prime Minister Boiko Borissov has said that he wants GERB supporters to vote no and has said that he favours increasing the capacity of the existing Kozloduy nuclear power station. President Rossen Plevneliev, who took office about a year ago after being elected as head of state on the ticket of the ruling party, also has stated his opposition to Belene and said that he would vote no, on the basis of concerns about the huge and unaffordable sums it would take to build Belene and the lack of a serious strategic investor.

The actual question in the referendum omits a specific reference to Belene, but campaigners in the pro and anti camps are still treating the vote as effectively being one about Belene.

On January 8, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria launched an awareness campaign to encourage its members – stated to add up to more than 300 000 – to vote in the referendum.

Some minority parties in and out of Parliament are calling for a boycott of the referendum, dismissing it as an expensive farce that will have no real long-term impact on Bulgaria’s nuclear energy decisions.

With more than two weeks to go to the referendum, campaigning is hardly at the forefront of public life, with major political parties apparently sparing their energies for later in the game – and for the national parliamentary elections to be held in mid-year.

Campaigners for a no vote were conducting a whistle-stop campaign, with events scheduled on January 8 in Veliko Turnovo and in Svishtov.

Daniel Vulchev, who was in the cabinet in the 2005 to 2009 administration and who now is part of Meglena Kouneva’s party that is aiming for seats in Parliament after the 2013 election, said that he doubted that enough people would turn out to vote to make the referendum valid. Kouneva’s party is boycotting the referendum on the grounds of what it sees as the meaninglessness of the exercise, and Vulchev compared the Bulgarian vote unfavourably with the recent Lithuanian referendum on nuclear power, saying that in that referendum, the details and implications of the options had been clear.

(Photo, of the town of Belene on the Danube: Clearvision)



The Sofia Globe staff

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