Банкеръ Weekly


Indebted Belene NPP Comes Back to Fashion

After a period of staying on the shelf, Bulgaria's largest energy project - Belene nuclear power plant is back on the agenda. Moreover - this happened at the exact position of the event - with external meeting of the respective committee in the small riverside town of Belene. The organizers, however, apparently did not consider the fact that the remoteness of Belene will not help to promote debate and the lack of microphones and cameras will require the participating members to explain in subsequent television studios what they talked about.

The fact is that until recently the topic of Belene was a complete taboo for the government. The official position was that the country is currently in an arbitration procedure with the Russian company Atomstroyexport (ASE) and one should not discuss in vain a second nuclear power plant, that would be exorbitantly expensive. Even the proposal by Ataka nationalist party submitted in February for discussion in the plenary hall was later withdrawn. The nationalists demanded annulment of the decision of the previous National Assembly on 29 March 2012 for the termination of the construction and required the government to take appropriate actions for the construction of the plant. Indeed, the biggest deterrent then was the resounding "no" of the coalition partner. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), that did not even to hear about the restarting of the nuclear project. Without it, the socialists cannot now collect the required majority to revive the Belene project, said Mr. Koyumdzhiev. MRF is against the project at the moment and it is only supported by Ataka party, he said. Together with Ataka the socialists have 106 votes out of the 240-seat Parliament, this will not allow the National Assembly to decide.

For the socialists, however, Belene is a handy pacifier, especially before the European Parliament elections. For the initiated by them referendum on the future of plant in January 2013 the state paid over 20 million levs, but since they came to power, no development followed. And now, the topic for nuclear energy suddenly reemerged and it is the favorite one especially among older socialists. A second such topic is the revival of Bulgarian agriculture through irrigation systems.

Such nostalgic twists, however, does not look appropriate having in mind the serious problems in front of a second nuke in Belene. The socialists are aware that there is no investor to give the necessary 10 billion euros to build such a project and whatever calculations may be made the price will not decrease. And if the construction does not start soon the prepared in 2004 assessment of environmental impact expire. This will require the preparation of a new, which would further delay the project.

Meanwhile, Belene continues to weigh on the National Electricity Company whose debts are proving to be one of the most guarded secrets in the state. Last week, members of GERB party, led by former Minister Delian Dobrev went personally to the Ministry of Economy to request a statement of its obligations by the end of 2013 and end of March 2014. "No information was received and the justification was that the Deputy Minister had no mandate from the Minister to give us this information, but it became clear that the two of them had phoned each other earlier and discussed details around our meeting," said Dobrev. According to him the requested documents and records are prepared and the refusal to hand them was most probably related to the amount owed. What bothers them is that within ten months alone the liabilities of the company increased by 600-700 million levs, which means 60-70 million levs a month, Mr. Dobrev said.

He assumed that the public announcement of the information may be delayed until after the European elections, but NEC rushed with the answer. According to them, from 2009 up until June 2013 the company's liabilities increased by 605 million levs. However, this figure does not include the additional debt of nearly 400 million levs owed on the loan granted by the BNP Paribas for the Belene project, which matured in late May 2013.


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