Bulgaria to keep ‘blocking quota’ in future Belene nuclear plant – minister

Bulgaria’s Energy Minister Temenouzhka Petkova presented in Parliament on December 7 the draft framework for the selection process of a strategic investor for the Belene nuclear power plant, offering additional details about the wishlist that ministry will offer prospective investors.

The state-owned electricity utility NEK will keep a “blocking quota” of at least 34 per cent in the company that would build the nuclear power plant, Petkova said, ensuring that the Bulgarian state would “control the entire process and will be present from construction until the end of operations of this new nuclear facility.”

Bulgaria plans to spin off the all Belene assets from state-owned electric utility NEK – the site, where more than one billion euro was spent to prepare for construction, and equipment delivered by Atomstroyexport, the Russian company picked to build the two 1000MW reactors, which Bulgaria had to take after losing an arbitration suit in 2016.

Any prospective investors will be required to use those assets in the construction of the Belene plant. The ministry’s plan also envisions construction lasting no longer than 10 years and costing no more than 10 billion euro – in a best-case scenario, it would take eight years to build Belene for nine billion euro.

The cost clause is likely to prove one of the major conditions, given the Cabinet’s insistence that the Belene plant is built on a “market principle”, without any state investment guarantees or long-term electricity purchase contracts.

Bulgaria froze the Belene project in May 2012 over concerns about ballooning costs, with an HSBC report estimating total spending as likely to exceed 10 billion euro, after failing to sign a final contract with Atomstroyexport amid disputes over cost-escalation clauses.

Furthermore, prospective investors would score additional points in the assessment of their bids if they offer to give management of the Belene plant to Bulgaria’s existing nuclear power plant at Kozloduy.

That would allow using “the entire capacity and experience of Kozloduy nuclear power plant,” Petkova told MPs in Parliament’s energy committee during a hearing on December 6.

Petkova said that the search for strategic investors will begin at the start of next year and re-iterated her earlier position that the process could conclude before the end of 2019 in case of “confirmed real interest.”

She said that the ministry has received indications of interest from three companies – China National Nuclear Corporation, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power and France’s Framatome. Media reports earlier this year claimed that Framatome was only interested in a contractor role.

Petkova’s plan received lukewarm support among MPs, even though Parliament voted overwhelmingly, earlier this year, in support of a motion to give the government a mandate to hold talks with potential investors in Belene, but also stopped short of unfreezing the project altogether.

MPs for the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, which is a big supporter of unfreezing Belene, criticised Petkova’s proposed time frame for picking an investor as unrealistic, while at the same time questioning the Cabinet’s commitment to the project.

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



The Sofia Globe staff

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