BELENE N-PLANT PROJECT CLASSIFIED AS CONFIDENTIAL
The Government has classified the Belene N-plant project as confidential and access to it is strictly limited, an excellently informed source told the BANKER weekly. The inscription confidential has been put on the papers for the nuclear power station project in compliance with the provisions of the Access to Classified Information Act. Many of the documents do not even exist on paper, the source says. All the information is on electronic carriers, but only three ministers have access to the Belene CDs. These are the ministers, entrusted by the Government to hold the negotiations with the candidates (in addition to Energy Minister Milko Kovachev, the trio includes Deputy Premier and Economy Minister Lidiya Shouleva and Finance Minister Milen Velchev). The contents of the secret documents is not known to the employees of the Nuclear Power Engineering and Safety Directorate of the Energy Ministry, nor to the members of the Consultative Council (set up a year ago by an order of PM Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) for the Belene N-plant. In fact, the Premier himself has left the project's development in the hands of the three above-mentioned ministers, the BANKER was told by a member of the Cabinet who attended the closed-door meeting of the Council of Ministers last Thursday (June 24). Only members of the Government were present at the meeting, no shorthand record was made, and no experts' standpoints were listened to. The Cabinet approved on principle the programme for the construction of the second Bulgarian N-plant and even terms were fixed. The only uncertain thing was how negotiations with the three consortia, bidding for the implementation, would go on. The first consortium includes the Russian company Atomstroiexport, the French Framatome, and the German Siemens. The second one includes the Czech company Skoda together with the Italian bank UniCredito, Citibank, and the Czech Komerchka Banka. In the last months the Czech consortium was joined by the US-based Westinghouse Electric Co, which is a part of the state-run British company BNFL. The third consortium includes the Canadian AECL (producer of the reactor), the Italian Ansaldo Nuclear, the American Behtel and the Japanese Hitachi Corp.The first two candidates propose to finish the construction of Belene's unit 1 with the Russian WWER 1000 generator (begun prior 1990), using its modified configuration W-320M. There are two options for the second unit: again Russian reactors of the WWER (water-water) type, but with a different capacity - 1000 or 640 megawatts. The third consortium proposes to build two units with heavy-water reactors of the Candu type, each with a capacity of 730 megawatts. The conflict moment of the top secret meeting of the Cabinet was said to be the tender procedure. Energy Minister Kovachev insisted for holding initial negotiations with the three bidders, and a tender afterwards. For some of his colleagues, however, the proposed scheme made senseless the very concept of a tender. For the time being its not clear what the Government has decided about the Belene project. It is not known either what information the public will get and when. The official excuse of the Energy Ministry are the taboos of the Protection of Classified Information Act. Due to these bans the BANKER will for the time being keep silence about the financial parameters, included in the feasibility study for the Belene N-plant. It bears the inscription confidential and was worked out by the US company Parsons E C - NEC's consultants for the construction of the second Bulgarian nuclear power station. We'll only venture to quote that the highest offer per 1 megawatt of the new capacity is that of the Canadian consortium - the two units of 1,460 megawatts (total) will cost more than EUR2.5BN. In an interview for the BANKER, however, Patrick Thai, Deputy Director of the Marketing and Business Development department, said they had presented several offers to the Bulgarian Government, the highest of which for USD2.1BN (about EUR1.73BN). The cheapest solution, according to consultants, would be the installation of a nuclear kilowatt in the option preferred by them (finishing the construction of the already begun Belene unit). The aggregate amount of 2000-megawatt capacities in that case would be below EUR2.7BN.The figures in Parsons' research, discussed by the ministers on June 24, will probably not jump over the barrier of the law on classified information and would never become public. It is another question why the Belene N-plant project was included in the framework of that specific law. According to lawyers, the Cabinet has referred to item 14 b of the additional provisions of the legislative act, in which the following hypotheses were enumerated as interests of the Republic of Bulgaria, connected with national security: revealing, preventing and counteracting secret encroachment, hurting the political, economic and defence interests of the State. But the secret negotiations in the procedure, which could not be even defined as a tender, would hardly go into the interests of the republic of Bulgaria, nor in the interest of the nation, which will have to pay off the EUR2.5BN. It is interesting whose interests are hidden behind the inscription confidential.