Bulgarian and Russian state companies have rushed for a last-ditch effort in the negotiations for the fate of the Belene nuclear power project on March 31, the day when their previous agreement expires.
Representatives of Bulgaria's National Electric Company NEK and Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom held talks behind closed doors, the NEK press service announced Thursday.
The last-minute negotiations continue late into the night on Thursday. They are expected to hammer out a new agreement with new deadlines for talks as it is unlikely that Bulgaria and Russia will be able to agree on the major bone of contention – the price for the construction of the 2000-MW Belene NPP – on the last day of the existing agreement.
The 11th annex to the main contract between Bulgaria and Russia on the construction of the Belene nuke plant expires on March 31st 2011. Earlier in March Rosatom demanded that the parties sign the next agreement by then.
Russia says the project construction price should be EUR 6.3 B. The Borisov government wants to set the price at as little as EUR 5 B.
A report of the Bulgarian state TV indicated as of 11 pm on Thursday that NEK and Rosatom are just about to sign a three-month moratorium on their talks for the final decision on whether Belene will be built at all.
At the end of last week Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said that the government will delay its decision whether to go ahead with its second nuclear power plant project or not by at least another three months over concerns about safety and costs.
What is more, after the Fukushima Daiichi NPP in Japan was badly damaged by the March 11 earthquake, Bulgaria's Ministry of Economy, Energy and Tourism submitted to Rosatom 30 questions regarding the safety of Belene NPP.
NEK said that if a new, 12th annex to the Bulgarian government's framework agreement with Rosatom's subsidiary Atomstroyexport from 2006 is signed on Thursday, it will have to be approved by the NEK board and then by NEK's parent company, the Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH).
In November 2010, shortly after a visit to Sofia by Russian PM Putin, Bulgaria's National Electric Company NEK and Russian state company Rosatom signed a memorandum providing for a final fixed price for the two reactors of EUR 6.298 B.
According to the non-binding memorandum expiring on March 31, 2011, Bulgaria's NEK will have a share of 51% in the Belene NPP, Rosatom – a share of 47%, Finnish company Fortum - a share of 1%, and French company Altran Technologies - a share of 1% with an option to increase it. Serbia has expressed interest in acquiring a share of 5%-10% but the talks for that have not been finalized yet.
After it was first started in the 1980s, the construction of Bulgaria's second nuclear power plant at Belene on the Danube was stopped in the early 1990s over lack of money and environmental protests.
After selecting the Russian company Atomstroyexport, a subsidiary of Rosatom, to build a two 1000-MW reactors at Belene and signing a deal for the construction, allegedly for the price of EUR 3.997 B, with the Russians during Putin's visit to Sofia in January 2008, in September 2008, former Prime Minister Stanishev gave a formal restart of the building of Belene. At the end of 2008, German energy giant RWE was selected as a strategic foreign investor for the plant.
The Belene NPP was de facto frozen in the fall of 2009 when the previously selected strategic investor, the German company RWE, which was supposed to provide EUR 2 B in exchange for a 49% stake, pulled out.
In mid-March 2011, apparently acting on concerns caused by the situation in Japan's Fukushima NPP after the recent devastating earthquake there, the European Commission confirmed that it wants to reexamine the Belene NPP project - once Bulgaria finds an investor for it - even though it already approved it back in 2007.