WHO FEARS THE PARTNERS INSPECTION IN KOZLODOUI?
The partners' inspection of blocks 3 and 4 of the Bulgarian nuclear power plant in Kozlodoui is about to make both the Bulgarian authorities and the European Commission record-holders. It is expected to be the fastest inspection of a nuclear power plant ever. It will be held in the second half of November. A week later, the Group on Nuclear Affairs at the EU will review the results, the Energy Minister Milko Kovachev said on September 24. A day earlier the ministry's chief secretary, Slavcho Neikov, announced that Brussels administrators had appointed the October-November inspection yet in July by a special protocol resolution. However, the Ministry of Energy was not officially informed either about the resolution or about any terms established. It's still unclear who will communicate with the Bulgarian experts, Mr. Neikov said. However, the lack of a concrete technical assignment seems a much more serious problem.Bulgaria has no idea if the preparation of the papers on the purpose and methodology of the inspection has even started. Apart from being prepared, the assignment also needs to be bilaterally coordinated. Considering the volume of this type of documentation (up to several hundred pages, experts say), the ambitious tasks will hardly be fulfilled by mid-November and even by the end of the year. Unless the inspection is only incidental and does not necessarily aim at fulfilling Brussels' commitment from the final text of the Energy chapter in the pre-accession agreement. The text reads that the partners' inspection should be held before the final conclusion of Bulgaria's negotiations with the EU. It means in the second half of 2003, so that all conditions about the power plant could be re-negotiated until the autumn of 2004.The questions about the inspection terms will soon get an answer, but what this inspection will include is still unclear. The detail assignment from Brussels will be made on the basis of the information that Bulgaria has provided. The inspection in the plant will only concentrate on questions that haven't been explained by the written documentation, Minister Kovachev said. He didn't give details whether the revision in Kozlodoui will also cover the project safety of the two blocks. If this does not happen, the revision will be useless and the reaction of Brussels will be a substitution of what Bulgaria had requested, the head of the Agency for Nuclear Safety, Emil Vapirev, said.Apart from the closing of Kozlodoui blocks 3 and 4 in 2006 and the promised partners' revision, the concluding text of the Energy chapter also comments the social consequences from the suspension of the two blocks and the financial assistance from the EU for getting over these consequences. The European Commission is much more talkative about this text, ministry officials comment. Still, there are some considerable differences even here. According to the report sent by the ministry to the government, EUR1.7BN will be the least amount needed to compensate the suspension of the two blocks of Kozlodoui. And the amount stipulated by EU structural funds for all sectors of the Bulgarian economy by 2007 is just EUR1.2BN. The difference in the figures - EUR500,000, doesn't need any comment. Therefore, it is logical to ask if the EU inspectors shouldn't be even more afraid of the results of this inspection. The Bulgarian Ministry of Energy and the Commission for Energy Regulation have survived lots of troubles in the past years in Kozlodoui. They have been inspected for the safety of the power plant, the qualification of the staff, the independency of the special law... At the same time, the revision promised to Bulgaria is the first of its kind in the negotiations for EU accession of countries from the former socialist block.If there is an inspection indeed and it goes in the way Bulgaria has requested, it is likely, at a merely expert level, to be proven that the Bulgarian nuclear power plant is much safer than western plants are. Undoubtfully, this will create a serious precedent for the other former socialist countries allowed at the front door of Europe. They also will have the right to request similar revisions and may try to postpone the already contracted suspension of their reactors. Lithuania and Slovakia will be first in the list.That's why Bulgaria should not expect a serious revision in Kozlodoui - neither by the Group on Nuclear Affairs at the EU, nor by any other institution from the community. Most probably, in the second half of November Kozlodoui will only see a repeated 2000 inspection - with a more detailed assignment, but with nothing new in the essence.