THE BATTLE FOR BELENE N-PLANT - BY ALL MEANS
The idea for the construction of the Belene nuclear power plant, voiced by PM Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha during the inauguration of the NMSII party on April 6, 2002, began a life of its own. At that, with all the speculations, insinuations, and contra-disinformations, characteristic of such a large-scale project, which culminated in the anonymous publication of April 29 in the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail. That was exactly the day when the Cabinet made a decision for the implementation of the Belene N-plant project. The unsigned letter was accusing Bulgarian government officials of demanding a bribe from the Canadian state-run company AECL (Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.) in order to ensure its participation in the construction of the new power generating capacities. In a letter to the Energy Minister Milko Kovachev, dated May 2, the company's President and CEO Robert van Adel officially states that Bulgarian government officials have never approached, directly or indirectly Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. or its partners and have not sought contacts with them in order to involve them in activities contradicting the legal way for the development of the Belene project. On May 3, Premier Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha officially announced from the Belene site that the construction of the second Bulgarian N-plant would start by the year-end. Meanwhile, the scandalous accusations of the Canadian anonymous publication were circulated in Macedonia, Greece and Romania. On May 4, after a press conference in Sofia of ecology organisations, titled NO to Belene N-plant, a heap of copies of the anonymous writing was awaiting the journalists. Nobody undertook the responsibility for its circulation. It includes names of more than ten Bulgarian, Canadian and European politicians, involved in the corruption scheme. Among them are: PM Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and the circle around him, his sister Maria-Luisa, Energy Minister Milko Kovachev, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on Energy Vesselin Bliznakov, the head of Risk Engineering Bogomil Manchev, and BULBANK's CEO Levon Hampartsoumyan. The anonymous letter claims that employees of the Canadian company (with the knowledge of some of its BoD members) bribed Bulgarian government officials in order to impose their products on the Bulgarian market. The opportunity for bribing was provided, the letter says, by the lack of clear criteria for the tender for the construction of the second N-plant in our country. The Bulgarian Government shall not venture to enter an absurd situation and take a stance on an anonymous denunciation which sole purpose is to tarnish Bulgaria's name, at that in a moment when the development of nuclear power engineering turns from a priority in the Government's policy into a reality, the info service of the Council of Ministers stated on May 4. In turn, Minister Kovachev who informed the Prosecutor General Nikola Filchev about the anonymous letter in the Canadian newspaper late last week said he hoped that the authors of that letter would be known at the end of the inspections going on simultaneously in Canada and Bulgaria. There are three possibilities, the minister said. The first one is that the letter has been written by sources close to green parties and movements that have been fighting against large power plants (coal, nuclear, or gas ones) for the past 10-15 years, explaining that these plants have no future in front of them. Another suspect is the specific situation in Southeastern Europe, where attracting investments to a certain country means that they will not be made in another. According to Mr. Kovachev, the most improbable scenario includes some scrimmage among the different applicants.Other competent people even see the long arm of the now extinct State Security behind the authors of the letter. The main part of the letter, they say, has been written by someone who is very well acquainted with the Bulgarian conditions and the energy sector and is fully aware of all off the records meetings held by officials of AECL in Sofia. Respectively, the people involved are described selectively so that they could correspond to the implications about the structuring of a corruption scheme. However, the final text has been prepared across the ocean where details about the company have been added, too.The person who sent the letter knew the situation in Canada very well: the addressees of the letter are among the greatest opponents of nuclear energy - the Globe and Mail reporter and the MP Joe Comartin. The Canadian politician said on May 4 that he had asked in Parliament whether the Government would take any measures to find out the author of the anonymous letter and whether it would encourage him to reveal his identity, promising that he would not be punished. According to the politician, the author of the letter is a person who works at AECL or one of the other two companies participating in a consortium with the Canadian company (which are the US Bechtel and the Italian Ansaldo).In fact, the accusations in the letter are such that their author will hardly ever become known. But it's certain that the scandals concerning the second Bulgarian N-plant are still to gather speed. The reason is not just the BGN1BN that will be spent for the first unit of the Belene power station until the year 2010. Additionally, there are the purely political opportunities for regional influence that every owner of a N-plant traditionally has. The battle for the Belene project will go on by all possible means and this is also proven by the hundreds of million of euros, expected as revenues in each of the power station's period of operation.