Bulgaria, Russia near deal on Belene nuclear plant

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Bulgaria and Russia moved closer to a surprise breakthrough Tuesday on a long-stalled project for a new 2,000-megawatt nuclear power plant on the Danube as foreign investors signalled they were ready to join in.

After talks with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, the head of Russia's state nuclear power company Rosatom, Sergey Kirienko, surprisingly announced that he expected to sign later Tuesday a memorandum for setting up a project company for Belene.

"The document must be ready within hours," Kirienko was cited by state BTA news agency as saying.

Rosatom's subsidiary Atomstroyexport was already contracted in 2008 to build the 2,000-megawatt nuclear power plant at Belene, in northern Bulgaria.

But the project has been dogged by a dispute over the construction costs and the withdrawal of German investor, the power giant RWE, which was originally to have held a 49-percent stake.

Russia has long offered to acquire a stake in Belene until finding a new European strategic investor to enter the project but Bulgaria was so far reluctant to agree.

Bulgaria's Energy Minister Traicho Traikov said on the sidelines of an energy forum in Sofia Tuesday that French consultancy Altran Technologies and Finnish power company Fortum Corporation had expressed interest "in principle" in buying a stake in Belene.

Nevertheless, neither the exact size of the investments nor any further details had been agreed as yet.

In comments to journalists later Tuesday, Kirienko confirmed the foreign interest in the plant but said it concerned minority stakes.

He meanwhile reiterated Russia's readiness to participate in Belene with as much as 40 to 45 percent, while a new investor was found, and hinted that Bulgaria would most likely accept the offer provided that it maintained its majority stake in the plant.

Kirienko signalled that there was also certain progress on a second major argument between Sofia and Moscow about the plant's final cost but did not provide details.

Atomstroyexport has recently put the estimated final cost of Belene at at least 6.3 billion euros (8.6 billion dollars), compared to 3.9 billion euros initially.

Sofia in turn insisted the cost must not exceed 5.0 billion euros.

© 2010 AFP

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