Bulgarian court orders disclosure of Belene nuclear plant study

Sofia’s administrative court ruled to make public, subject to freedom of information request, all the information regarding the feasibility study carried out by consultants HSBC on the Belene nuclear plant project, Bulgarian party National Movement for Stability and Progress (NMSP) said.

The party made an access to information request to Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH), the parent company of state electricity utility NEK, which owns the project, in 2012. The request was denied on the grounds that it was confidential information, based on an earlier court decision that said that BEH was not on the list of state institutions that have to answer freedom of information requests.

“The court finds that BEH is a mandatory subject under the Access to Public Information Act and the information requested has the attribute of public interest,” the administrative court said in its decision, as quoted by NMSP.

If the court ruling is not appealed, it would “tear down the legal fence, behind which the secrets of the most important sector of Bulgarian industry – the energy sector – have been hidden,” the party said. (BEH is the umbrella holding grouping all major state assets in the energy sector.)

NMSP said that it lodged its access to information request so as to allow voters to make an informed decision at the January 2013 referendum on the future of nuclear power in Bulgaria. The referendum showed support for the construction of a new nuclear facility, but turnout was too low to make the result mandatory. The turnout was just high enough to refer the issue back to Parliament, which confirmed its earlier decision from April 2012 to mothball any work on Belene.

Bulgaria contracted Russia’s Atomstroyexport to build two 1000MW nuclear reactors at Belene in 2007, under the government of the socialist-led tripartite coalition, which included NMSP. The decision to restart the Belene project was made in 2005, under another coalition government, led by NMSP.

The initial contract envisioned construction costs at a flat four billion euro, but a final contract was never signed because of the disputes with Atomstroyexport concerning cost escalation clauses. By 2010, the cost of construction rose to 6.3 billion euro, according to Atomstroyexport’s parent company, Rosatom.

In 2012, the government of prime minister Boiko Borissov moved to freeze the project and received Parliament’s support for the motion. Just weeks later, the government made public parts of the study carried out by HSBC, which put the cost at more than 10 billion euro.

As a result, Atomstroyexport filed a suit in a European arbitration court, demanding one billion euro in damages, which, it said, was the cost of equipment ordered by not paid by Bulgaria.

Prior to the May 2013 snap elections, the socialists have said that restarting Belene would be one of their major priorities in government, but have made little progress on the issue so far, with the predominantly ethnic Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms – which a minority partner in both ruling coalitions that governed Bulgaria between 2001 and 2009, when the project was restarted and was given the official go-ahead – reportedly opposing such a restart.

(Belene nuclear plant site, screengrab from Bulgarian National Television) 



The Sofia Globe staff

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