SOFIA, September 13 (Itar-Tass) —— The Belene nuclear power plant is a strategic project for Bulgaria, former Bulgarian monarch and politician Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha said.
He headed the Bulgarian government in 2001-2005.
“The construction of the Belene NPP is an extremely important issue for our power industry, and for that reason it is normal that is has political dimensions, but it would be absurd, to say the least, to turn it into a tool for political struggle,” the Bulgarian monarch said.
“I am personally belong to those who are convinced that 20 years from now we will regret that we lost the opportunity to become independent in terms of energy,” he said.
“The decision to build the plant in 2002 was not a whim of my government. Apart from economic, strategic and environmental arguments in favour of the Belene NPP, there are two other points. When I visited the NPP construction site I saw how much the state and people had invested [in the project] since 1981. Are we so rich today to give up those investments so easily? And second, in 2002, after a nine-year suspension of construction, the site was still in a surprisingly decent condition, and it still is owing to Bulgarian specialists who did their job properly,” Saxe-Coburg-Gotha said.
“When holding a referendum, it is necessary to assess the Belene NPP project seriously and responsibly as a consolidating and motivating goal similar to Bulgaria’s accession to NATO and the European Union,” he said and warned against speculation and politicisation.
The Bulgarian government and the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party supported the idea of holding a referendum on the construction of the Belene nuclear power plant.
Prime Minister Boyko Borisov suggested holding a referendum in the summer of next year simultaneously with parliamentary elections. “It [the nuclear power plant] started to be built 30 years ago and therefore can wait for several months until the referendum takes place. If we hold it now, we will spend 15-20 million euros on it. If we organise it simultaneously with the parliamentary elections, it will cost us nothing,” the prime minister said.
In his opinion, ballots should also contain information about the plant. “If you say ‘yes’, this means that every citizen of Bulgaria should pay a hefty sum of money out of his pocket for the construction of the nuclear power plant. If we build it for 11 billion euros, electricity in the country will not become cheaper,” he added, referring to loan payments.
“If the referendum gives the result [sought by the opposition], the state will bind itself by bank loan commitments on the next day and we will start building,” Borisov said.
Bulgarian specialists said in late July that the campaign to collect signatures in support of a referendum on the Belene NPP had been brought to an end.
Opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) leader and former Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev and his supporters presented in the parliament about 800,000 signatures in support of the referendum.
Stanishev believes that the decision to withdraw from the Belene nuclear power plant project will jeopardise the future of atomic power engineering in Bulgaria.
He stressed that the decision is deadly for the present leadership of Bulgaria, for taxpayers and the nuclear power industry in the country.
Stanishev warned that it would lead to higher electricity prices for the population.
According to Stanishev, “the future of nuclear power engineering has been seriously jeopardised in Bulgaria. Its destruction began with the closure of Units 3 and 4 at the Kozloduy NPP. Bulgaria will face the need to import electricity from other countries.”
Russia and Bulgaria signed a memorandum on late November 2010 that lays out the principles of establishing a project company to build the Belene nuclear power plant.
Bulgaria started experiencing problems with the project after the outbreak of the global financial crisis. The situation deteriorated after the investor - Germany's RWE concern that was bidding for 49 percent of the NPP shares -- had withdrawn from the project.
The Belene site was approved for the construction of a second Bulgarian NPP by a Council of Ministers decree on March 20, 1981. The site was handed to the Ministry of Economics on December 31, 1981.
The foundations of the future power plant were laid in 1987 according to the design of Atomenergoproekt Kiev from the USSR and Energoproekt Sofia. The design suggested the construction of four VVER-1000/V 320 reactors. Between 1988 and 1990 40 percent of the construction work of reactor 1 was finished and 80 percent of the equipment was supplied. The project was abandoned in 1990 due to the democratic changes in Bulgaria. In 2002, the government decided to restart the Belene project. The tender for the construction of the nuclear power plant was announced in 2005 and was won by Russian Atomstroyexport. The National Electric Company launched a procedure for selection of a contractor for the engineering, procurement, and commissioning of Belene Nuclear Power Plant, Units 1 and 2.
Bulgaria withdrew from the project in March 2012.