Bulgaria optimistic about nuclear reactor deal with Iran – PM

Iran has shown interest in reviewing Bulgaria’s proposal to sell its Russian-made nuclear reactors from the shelved Belene nuclear power plant project, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said after meeting with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.

Borissov told reporters that Rouhani had expressed his support for a possible deal and that discussions would continue at ministerial level on July 12, the second day of Borissov’s visit to Iran, public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television (BNT) reported.

The talks would also involve the Russian manufacturer, Atomstroyexport, and Russia’s energy minister Alexander Novak, Borissov said.

Last month, Bulgaria’s state-owned electric utility NEK lost the arbitration lawsuit against Atomstroyexport, the foreign projects subsidiary of Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom, which was picked to build two 1000MW nuclear reactors at Belene on the Danube River.

Bulgaria’s government shut down the Belene project in 2012 – three years after an intergovernmental agreement was signed amid much fanfare in Sofia and seven years after a tender that restricted the technology choice to Russian-made light-water reactors – with no final contract signed and amid concerns about the spiralling costs of the project.

NEK was ordered to pay 550 million euro in damages to Atomstroyexport for equipment ordered for the Belene nuclear power plant, which NEK never paid for. This included one completed reactor and an incomplete one.

Despite losing the arbitration, the decision was greeted with some degree of relief from Bulgarian authorities because the court-ordered damages were half the amount demanded by Atomstroyexport. Immediately after the decision was made public, Bulgaria started discussions with Iran on a possible sale of the equipment, which would require the assent of the Russian manufacturer, news website Mediapool.bg reported.

Speaking to Bulgarian National Radio, Bulgaria’s former ambassador to Russia Ilian Vassilev – who now works as an energy consultant and is one of the most vocal critics of the Kremlin in Bulgaria – said that Sofia had some advantage in the future talks with Atomstroyexport because Rosatom was having difficulties with financing its projects abroad. Vassilev said that Bulgaria could strike a good deal on the equipment, but would have to write off the money invested in preparing the site of the Belene power plant.

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



The Sofia Globe staff

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