Bulgaria’s Energy Ministry said on August 20 that it has received letters of interest from 13 candidates in its tender to pick a strategic investor for the restart of the Belene nuclear power plant.
Not all letters were from potential strategic investors, since as part of the process, the ministry also sought offers for minority stakes and from potential long-term electricity buyers.
In total, seven candidates formally recorded their interest in becoming a strategic investor, including Russia’s nuclear corporation Rosatom, China National Nuclear Corporation and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, which had all been mentioned in media reports going back to 2018.
Four other parties were named as in the running for strategic investor, including one German-registered company and three Bulgarian-registered entities, but the ministry did not give further details about their identity and backers.
French Framatome and General Electric both declared their interest in supplying equipment and participating in securing the funding for the project, confirming earlier media reports that said that the two companies were seeking to win supply contracts rather than taking a stake in Belene.
Additionally, the Republic of North Macedonia has lodged its interest in acquiring a minority stake and signing an electricity-purchasing agreement, according to the ministry’s statement.
The ministry said that a task force that will include representatives of state electric utility NEK, its parent company Bulgarian Energy Holding and grid operator ESO, would draft a shortlist of strategic investor candidates within 90 days.
“The procedure is flexible and allows the chosen strategic investor to hold talks with companies that have shown interest in a minority stake or power-purchasing contracts,” the ministry said.
The ministry reiterated that its search for a strategic investor was expected to be completed in 12 months. Previously, it had repeatedly said that Bulgaria’s key condition for restarting the project was that it must be carried out 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 Rosatom subsidiary Atomstroyexport amid disputes over cost-escalation clauses.
State-owned electric utility NEK was left holding a number of assets, including the site, where more than one billion euro was spent to prepare for construction, and equipment delivered by Atomstroyexport, picked to build the two 1000MW reactors, which Bulgaria had to take after losing an arbitration suit in 2016.
These assets will be spun off into a separate company that the strategic investors will buy into. In exchange for the assets, NEK plans to keep a minority stake large enough to block shareholder decisions on “certain issues”, according to the ministry’s current plans.
(Belene nuclear plant site, screengrab from Bulgarian National Television)