Bulgaria, Russia suspend work on nuclear power plant

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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, officials said.

Following five days of closed-door talks, Russia's Rosatom and Bulgaria's National Electricity Company (NEC) signed a memorandum of understanding to "postpone for three months all new construction work, as well as any production of equipment that has not already been started," NEC 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 the project.

Initially, the cost of the 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.

It was the failure of the two sides to reach agreement that has now led to the halt of the project, according to government and NEC officials.

In addition, Bulgarian Energy Minister Traicho Traikov recently pointed to safety considerations in the wake of the nuclear disaster in Japan.

In its statement. NEC made no mention of the differences over costs but said 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."

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

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