WE ARE GUILTY OF NOT IMPORTING ELECTRICITY
Prof. Emil Vapirev, Chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Agency, to the BANKER weeklyMr. Vapirev, Bulgaria closed all chapters of the negotiations with the European Union. Does it mean that generators 3 and 4 of the Kozlodoui nuclear power plant have been definitely given up?- We cannot say that for certain yet, but there must be an official request from Bulgaria demanding prolongation of their exploitation terms. The European Commissioner Guenter Verheugen himself said that no such request had been submitted to the EU so far. In fact, the future of these units is a problem for Europe too, because shutting down reactors that are among the continent's top third in terms of safety indicators should logically lead to the question which are next. Following the logic that requires these two blocks of Kozlodoui to be shut down, England, for example, should remain with one single reactor. The situation is similar in Germany, Spain, etc. Are our units safe indeed and aren't their construction defects an obstacle for them? Are they sufficiently protected against a potential terrorist attacks?- World practice has proven that the safety of a certain reactor is assessed by the national regulator according to the common international standards. Usually safe generators are not closed. The Bulgarian national regulator has already voiced its opinion - both on the project and the exploitation safety of our units. We issued them long-term licences, so we consider their safety proven. All the rest is politics. These reactors have no construction defects. All discrepancies have been removed long ago and the inspections that were made during the years proved it. Including the partners' inspection. As far as a potential terrorist act is concerned, the respective national services always define a project threat and take measures against it. But a chemical plant or a reservoir, for example, is thousand times more vulnerable than Kozlodoui is. Can we rely on additional funds provided by the accession agreement as a compensation?- Do you know just how much money is needed to get the nuclear fuel in the first four blocks out of exploitation... - more than EUR2BN. The modernization of the small units is aimed at making them able to cover the costs for their decommissioning. If you think somebody would give us that EUR2BN, you are making a mistake. Such an amount cannot be given that simple - it has to be paid back.Why didn't we manage to settle new deadlines for closing the reactors?- The plant experts and our Nuclear Regulation Agency made efforts to save the two units but these efforts can hardly be appraised. There are no technical remarks in the nuclear sector. Why couldn't we settle new deadlines? Mr. Verheugen said it - we have not made a request. Bulgaria has never declared clearly that it wanted to keep these blocks. And these are not my words.Great hopes were laid on the famous partners' inspection. How did its report conclude that generators 3 and 4 cannot be modernized at an acceptable price?- This does not change the result from the inspection at all. The inspection showed that all project and exploitation remarks to the plant have been removed. Whether the price is acceptable or not is not important, the point is that the reactors have already been modernized. Compared to other countries, it has been done at quite a good price. That sentence was a great surprise even for the leader of the international inspection, Antonio Madona. It has been added by clerks in Brussels. Accidental factors cannot interfere in a process of this kind.Didn't you search for the anonymous author?- I proposed the Minister of Energy to make an inquiry and he resent the letter to the Minister of European Affairs Meglena Kouneva. I have no idea what has happened with it later. However, the partners' inspection showed two things - that the Kozlodoui plant has neither project nor exploitation defects and that the Nuclear Regulation Agency is capable and competent. From now on, the results from the inspection rest with all those who take part in the negotiation process. Being an institution, we gave the politicians all technical arguments. Unfortunately, it probably turned out that this partners' inspection has really been planned to gain time. Who is interested in doing that?- I cannot comment on that. Obviously we are guilty because Bulgaria does not import electricity.The elections for a new European Parliament which involved the newly-accepted member countries are over. Do you think it is possible for Bulgaria to hope on a change on Kozlodoui considering the new redistribution of the political influence?- The proportion of the forces in the European Parliament and in the future commission is now changing significantly indeed and we still have a chance to succeed. However, provided that we declare our willingness to use the reactors. No declaration has been made yet. Obviously, we want to win without even playing the pools. In fact, the volley decommissioning of two reactors is a mere punishment. It's reasonable to decommission the blocks gradually so that the unburnt fuel could be used. After units 3 and 4 are taken out of exploitation, nuclear fuel worth over USD30MN will remain unused. When generators 1 and 2 were shut down in 2002, we had at least the other two which could use their fuel, although partially. There is no other country that can afford to close nuclear reactors that haven't even operated for 30 years. The reactors usually works for at least 60 years around the world.Maybe we would have more opportunities after joining the EU...?- Like the partners' inspection, this means delaying the decision and pumping hopes.Being an expert, how do you estimate the construction of a new nuclear plant near Belene?- The plant in Belene should not be presented as an alternative to the one in Kozlodoui. I personally think that it is necessary. We have a combination of several favourable factors - unique infrastructure, public opinion, and a construction site. Besides, there is demand for electricity in the region. Of course, there are other interests, too - to import electricity in the region.Will the anonymous Canadian letter accusing of bribes influence the choice of a reactor for the Belene plant?- As you know, in Bulgaria there are always people who are interested in failing to realize a project honestly, even if it is worth just BGN1,000. And in the case of Belene the amount is USD2BN. But such an anonymous letter should not have influence, because safety and economy are objective indicators that narrow the choice. Therefore, there shouldn't be backstair games about this project and I believe that reason will finally win. What is your personal opinion - do the Candu reactors or the WWER ones have bigger chances to succeed?- The Candu reactors have nothing in common with the modern types of nuclear reactors. Their construction dates back to the 50s, they represent a modified version of a reactor producing plutonium and have defects that cannot be removed. The European Union launched some EU200MN for improvement of the system for protection of block II of the Romanian Tcherna Voda nuclear power plant. And what about the first block? This system does not compensate for the construction defects - they cannot be eliminated. Candu technology was acquired by countries that had an evident intention to produce plutonium - Pakistan, India, and Korea, where the programme was terminated. A serious package of documents of the European owners of nuclear reactors was prepared in the past decade. There it is written that they will only concentrate on the WWER reactors since they appear to be the safest and most competitive for the time being.