Bulgaria’s government is set to host talks on the future of the mothballed Belene nuclear power plant project later this week, when a Russian delegation is expected in Sofia, Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski told Bulgarian National Radio.
The delegation was to be headed by a deputy minister and the visit was unofficial, Oresharski said, without offering further details. The meeting would “clarify” the intentions of Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom and its ongoing litigation with Bulgaria stemming from the project’s shutdown.
Since taking office last week, Oresharski has fielded the Belene question on several occasions – predictably so, given that the project’s restart was one of the cornerstones of the election campaign run by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which nominated Oresharski for prime minister.
In his first televised appearance, on the breakfast show of the Bulgarian National Television on May 30, Oresharski said that there was too much bias concerning Belene, with too many analysts viewing it as a political project.
“I am looking at Belene as economics, not politics […] If it has the necessary efficiency, any investment project, provided it is needed, is worth considering for implementation,” he said. The key factors in taking the decision would be the forecasts of domestic consumption, the conditions offered by the Russian side and the new prices of equipment.
If the project was to be unfrozen, the Bulgarian state would keep 51 per cent and the rest would go to a big-name investor, he said. (This is the same formula envisioned by the 2005/09 coalition cabinet led by Sergei Stanishev, in which Oresharski was finance minister – that government picked Germany’s RWE to buy the minority stake but the energy firm later withdrew, citing the endless delays in the start of construction.)
Later on May 30, appearing on a late-night talk-show, Oresharski said that having spent so much money on the project and facing billion-euro damages lawsuits from Atomstroyexport, the Rosatom subsidiary picked to build the station, it was time to assess whether it would be “cheaper to refuse or to finish Belene. I have a feeling that it will be more profitable to finish it.”
The exact amount of money spent on the project so far is unclear – according to leaked (and unconfirmed) documents published earlier this year, the figure was at about 837 million euro at the end of 2011. The bulk of the money was paid to Atomstroyexport, on consultancy fees and to clear old equipment from the site. Reports at the end of the tripartite coalition’s term in 2009 put the figure at more than one billion leva, with the opposition of the time claiming that the lucrative contracts were handed to companies with ties to the parties in power.
At the same time, the Stanishev government failed to sign a final contract with Atomstroyexport for Belene. The existing contract requires the company to build two 1000MW reactors at Belene for a fixed price of four billion euro, but contains no inflation escalation clauses – these have been the constant stumbling block in negotiations between Moscow and Sofia that sunk the project in the end.
Even before Bulgaria officially mothballed Belene, Atomstroyexport filed a lawsuit against Bulgaria, claiming one billion euro in damages. The company was considering another lawsuit for 250 million euro worth of damages, but has postponed it until after the scheduled visit of Russian officials, according to a report in mass circulation daily Trud, later confirmed by Oresharski.
(Belene nuclear plant site, screengrab from Bulgarian National Television)