Bulgaria, Russia halt work on nuclear power plant
Bulgaria and Russia agreed Tuesday to halt work on a new nuclear power plant in northern Bulgaria for a period of three months so as to resolve cost and safety issues.
At the same time, Energy Minister Traicho Traikov fired the head of Bulgaria's National Electricity Company (NEC) which was leading the talks with the Russians.
Following five days of closed-door talks, Russia's Rosatom and NEC agreed to "postpone for three months all new construction work, as well as any production of equipment that has not already been started," the Bulgarian utility said in a statement.
Bulgaria contracted Rosatom subsidiary Atomstroyexport back in 2008 to build the 2,000-megawatt plant in Belene, on the river Danube.
But work on the project has suffered massive delays due to differences over costs and the withdrawal of German utility RWE as a strategic investor.
In its statement, NEC made no mention of the differences over costs, but both government and company officials insist it was this issue which led to the postponement of the project.
Initially, the cost of the Belene plant was put at 3.9 billion euros ($5.5 billion). But Rosatom subsequently revised it upwards to 6.3 billion euros, a price which Bulgaria refuses to pay.
NEC merely said that the postponement would give the two companies time "to make every effort to draw up a detailed analysis of issues related to nuclear and radiation safety."
Energy Minister Traikov has similarly raised the issue of safety at the plant in the wake of the current nuclear disaster in Japan.
In a surprise twist to the long-running saga, NEC chief Krasimir Parvanov was sacked Tuesday, with energy minister Traikov accusing him of overstepping his mandate when it came to some of the small print contained in the postponement agreement.
Originally, Bulgaria and Russia had agreed to resolve all open issues and set up the project company by March 31.
But Parvanov signed a clause which set that deadline back until June 1, and Traikov said the NEC chief had no power to do so.
Bulgaria was compelled to shut down four out of a total six reactors at its only existing nuclear power plant at Kozloduy at the behest of the European Union in 2007 due to safety concerns.
© 2011 AFP