FOREIGN EXPERTS TO SUPPORT KOZLODOUI
Bulgaria may have its energy balance broken, if it shuts down the second pair of small reactors (units 3 and 4) of the Kozlodoui Nuclear Power Plant without building substitute capacities. Last week proved this statement right. As a transformer of generator 6 of the N-plant overheated, the National Electricity Company (NEC) was forced to start importing electricity from Romania and Serbia.On the day following this incident, the Minister of Energy Milko Kovachev announced that Bulgaria has registered a record amount of exported electricity. By July 1, export amounted to 700 million kwh, and for the same period of last year it was some 500 million kwh. However, this indicator is going to decrease in case that reactors 3 and 4 of Kozlodoui are shut down.In order to compensate the decommissioning of the two units, Bulgarian rulers launched the idea for building a second N-plant near Belene. The construction of a new nuclear capacity is really necessary, but it will take between five and seven years at least, Emil Vapirev, Head of the Nuclear Regulation Agency (NRA), said on July 1. Simple calculations show that even if construction starts immediately, it will not be completed before 2008, i.e. two years after the deadline for closing Kozlodoui's generators 3 and 4.Eventually, the future of the second pair of small reactors will be known at the end of an inspection in Kozlodoui which was promised when the Energy chapter of negotiations with the EU was closed. It takes a lot of time for preparation, Mr. Vapirev said, insisting again that the inspection should be technical. However, he now wants the EU experts to arrive in Kozlodoui as soon as possible. Until then Bulgaria must have prepared a uniform and well-motivated strategy for saving the two small units, he said. This strategy should be supported by all politicians, experts and workers of the N-plant. Moreover, all faults of the two disputable reactors have already been eliminated. The International Agency for Atomic Energy (IAAE) has committed to help Bulgaria in extending beyond 2006 the term for operation of Kozlodoui's units 3 and 4. The inspection held from June 16 to 27 met the requirements of the agency experts for autonomy of the decisions made by the regulating authority and for competence of the personnel. The preliminary results of the inspection were announced at a press conference on July 1 and the final report will be published by the end of this month.The inspectors estimated each of the activities of the NRA - issue of licences and permissions, analysis of sefety, application of measures of compulsion, emergency planning, radioactive waste management, radioactive protection control, and waste transportation.IAAE's experts inspected two other facilities as well - the emergency centre at the Civil Defence state agency and the radioactive waste depository in the village of Novi Khan. The previous inspectors who arrived in 1997 did not give a very positive assessment to the Bulgarian nuclear regulator. What they disliked most concerned its independence. Political influence should be restricted, they recommended, and remuneration to its members should definitely exceed the salaries of Kozlodoui's emplyees. Otherwise, there would be grounds for corruption and political interference that might reflect negatively on the nuclear safety control, the foreign experts warned.According to the conclusions of the recent inspection, the Act on Safe Utilisation of Nuclear Energy, passed in 2002, has strengthened the positions of the regulating authority and has also limited the opportunities for political interference in making expert decisions. The positive rating of NRA's activity will give importance to the already issued long-term licences for operation of the disputable generators 3 and 4 in front of the European institutions, Mr. Vapirev said. It's not true that the Energy chapter can no longer be renegotiated, he explained.