THE RACE FOR BELENE N-PLANT HAS BEGUN
In addition to the introduction of energy-saving technologies, Bulgaria needs modernization and rehabilitation of the existing power capacities and construction of new power plants. This is the only way to meet 100% of domestic demand and retain our position as the biggest exporter of electricity in the region, the Energy Minister Milko Kovachev said at the conference on the methods of approach for financing the Belene N-plant, held on September 30. The tasks he formulated have been well known for quite a long time. The issues regarding the new power capacities, and especially the construction of a new N-plant, have been a subject of many discussions. This applies also to the real threat that from an exporter of electricity Bulgaria may become an importer after the year 2006 if the country decommissions units 3 and 4 of the Kozlodoui N-plant within the term, agreed by the Cabinet of Premier Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha when closing the Energy chapter in the negotiations with the EU. The construction of a new power plant, however, is not a decision that could be made by one person only. It is a subject of a wide public discussion and should be blessed by international institutions as well. Things are optimistic regarding the solving of the first part of the equation - Bulgaria has sufficient experience and proven experts in the operation of such equipment; moreover almost 80% of the people in this country are positively disposed towards the use of nuclear energy. At the present, preliminary stage at which the Belene N-plant project is, the EU would hardly have any objections. Officials in Brussels have many times stated that the construction of new power capacities is a purely political issue. Thus, practically, things are reduced to ensuring at least EUR1.5BN for resuming the construction of the power station, but discussions on the issue have so far resembled a big scientific and technical forum. The Belene N-plant project is not a chimera but a future reality, the head of the parliamentary Energy Commission Vesselin Bliznakov believes. The first reactor will be commissioned in 2008. There are objective problems such as the choice of a technological version, utilization of the generated electricity, protection of the equipment, storage of the used nucler fuel, etc., he explained.At the conference it became clear that some financial institutions had already expressed their readiness to finance the construction of the new power station. If the preliminary anlyses and research are completed in due term, the competition for the choice of the reactor's manufacturer will be invited in the first half of 2004. But in spite of the optimistic forecasts, the main parameters of the project are still not settled. Nobody ventures to say yet what type of a reactor is sought and what individual capacity would be more appropriate for Bulgarian conditions. We'll be seeking the competitive and long-term version, the Energy Minister Kovachev said. In his words, the State's share in the future company that will build and operate the Belene N-plant, will depend on the structuring of the project, and there will be always control on the part of the State on the energy sector. It is curious that while the executives of Bulgarian power engineering were formulating the general principles of the Belene project, five foreign companies presented their offers for the first reactor of the second local N-plant. These were the Czech Skoda, the French Framatom, the Russian Atomstroyexport, the Canadian Ђ…CL and the US Westinghouse. According to foreign experts, the major issue in this case is how the N-plant will be built - will the construction that has already started continue or will an entirely new type of reactors be used? At all events the first one will be cheaper.