CONCESSION IS THE LAST CHANCE
Emil Vapirev, Chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Agency, and Yordan Yordanov, former director of the Kozlodoui Nuclear Power Plant, said last week that there was no legal obstacle for giving the exploitation and safe decommission of units 3 and 4 on concession to a foreign company or a consortium. The law does not forbid that. When the agency issues a license, an operator must prove his technical abilities to safely operate the reactors, Mr. Vapirev explained. If the units become private, political decision for decommissioning could be avoided. Such practice already exists in the Netherlands, where the State has given up closing the units of the local Borsele plant. The BANKER weekly informed about the concession of the Kozlodoui small units last summer, when the Energy Minister Milko Kovachev paid a visit to Washington and London. Official press releases told then that Bulgarian officials wanted to inform the US and UK governments about the Bulgarian strategy for development of the energy sector and to get political support for the future of the country's nuclear energy. However, the BANKER weekly learned that Minister Kovachev discussed with the directors of two of the world's biggest private nuclear companies - the US Westinghouse and the British BNFL, opportunities for private exploitation of the Kozlodoui small units. This became possible when the new law on nuclear energy was adopted, experts comment. Under the law, nuclear energy units can be given on concession for up to 35 years. The contract fixes the parametres for electricity production (including safety requirements). The only missing thing were the candidates for concession. So, Minister Kovachev presented a detailed financial and economic analysis of each unit.In fact, Ivan Shilyashki, former director of the State Agency on Energy and Energy Resources, tried to attract a western company to Kozlodoui, too. Two years ago he signed in London a business agreement for joint operation with BNFL. But the secret document was carefully locked in the Mr. Shilyashki's desk and there were no further results. The British company was not chosen by accident or as a result of someone's lobbying, experts remind. It is among the first private companies in the world to start exploiting outdated nuclear reactors. Of course, the units were different from those in Kozlodoui, but were not perfectly safe. Problems should no longer be solved by the British Government, but by the private company. It has to guarantee larger production, lower prices, and a higher level of nuclear safety.The idea can be realized in Bulgaria, too, but it needs a decision of the Government and a procedure for choosing a company, experts say. The concession seems the last chance for units 3 and 4 of the Kozlodoui N-plant. There are already candidates, who are especially attracted by the good financial indicators. Anyway, authoritative western companies will find it much more easier than Bulgarian officials to convince the European Union that the two units can be safely operated for many years in the future.