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Friday, January 23, 2009

Bulgaria raises the Kozloduy nuclear power plant question again

Calls for the restart of units 3 and 4 of Bulgaria’s only nuclear power plant, in Kozloduy on the Danube, have received fresh impetus from both President Georgi Purvanov and Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev.

Ever since their closure at midnight on December 31 2006, as a precondition for Bulgaria’s European Union membership, the issue has been exploited by a number of politicians who have cited Bulgaria’s energy security and the country’s lost role as “the energy centre of the Balkans”.

Numerous internal investigations have all confirmed that the two units are entirely safe and that Bulgaria suffered an injustice by being effectively forced to agree on their closure to qualify for EU membership.

Such a stand boosted the popularity of the ultra-nationalist Ataka party, exploiting people’s dreams of resurrecting Bulgaria as a key energy provider and exporter of electricity to other countries in the region.

The executive, on the other hand, has always been more restrained on the issue, mindful that such a plan would need the support of all 27 member states. And, as Economy and Energy Minister Petar Dimitrov put it on January 16, “Austria and Greece are firmly against the relaunch of the units”.

Purvanov has carefully avoided talk of a referendum on the issue, aware that the result would be a foregone conclusion. Instead he has always proposed joint checks on the safety of the Soviet-designed units, to be performed by Bulgarian and EU experts.

Change of heart
The start of the year saw Purvanov abandoning the idea for joint checks and embracing a referendum on the relaunch of the plant’s units. Delivering a lecture on Bulgaria’s national security on January 16, he did not exclude the possibility of a referendum.

Purvanov found justification for this in the energy crisis following Russia’s decision to cut off supplies of natural gas to Europe and Bulgaria via Ukraine on January 6. Although nuclear energy has little relation to natural gas, the issue was used to reignite debate on Kozloduy.

The crisis had an extremely negative impact on Bulgaria’s large-scale plants. Dimitrov estimated losses to be about 169 million leva for the fortnight the crisis lasted.

From a legal point of view the crisis did bring fresh hopes for a re-examination of Kozloduy’s closed units, an impossible prospect before the crisis. Citing Article 35 from Bulgaria’s treaty of accession to the EU, Purvanov saw the opportunity for a new round of talks on the issue, something the European commission has always opposed on the basis that Bulgaria should adhere to its promises. But Purvanov interpreted the treaty very differently, noting that Article 35 stipulated that, should Bulgaria face an exceptionally difficult economic scenario in the first three years after EU accession, it was entitled to take protective measures.

The country joined the EU on January 1 2007, so Bulgaria could, theoretically, invoke this article until the end of this year. According to Purvanov, such measures could include the relaunch of the two units. Slovakia, by contrast, who also said it wanted to relaunch two units at its Bohunice nuclear power plant following the energy crisis, could not do so because its accession treaty does not contain such a clause.

Soon after Purvanov made his idea public, Kozloduy’s management said that it could restart one of the units within a month, but it only had sufficient nuclear fuel to last five months. For the second unit to become functional additional fuel would have to be bought from Russia.

Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, although initially cautious, decided to back Purvanov and said that the Government had asked the plant’s management to start preparing for the relaunch. Dimitrov even said that Bulgaria would ask the EC for permission to do so. So far the EC has not come out with an official position but Ferran Tarradellas, spokesperson for the European Commissionaire for Energy Andris Piebalgs has discounted the possibility. Instead he has floated a possible compensation package for Bulgaria after the crisis ends.

On January 21, Ramadan Atalai, chairperson of the energy committee in the Bulgarian Parliament, hinted at a broader strategy. “We can take advantage of the situation and not concentrate our efforts solely on the relaunch of the two Kozloduy units, but maybe seek other forms of compensation instead,” he told Bulgarian National Television.

Political support
Other than Stanishev’s Bulgarian Socialist Party and Ataka, Purvanov has failed to secure support from other parties in Parliament. The right-wing opposition, the party responsible for accepting the closure of the two units when it was in power, has deliberately avoided the issue, especially five months before parliamentary elections. Instead the right-wing parties asked for a revision of contracts the BSP signed with Russia’s Gazprom in 2007.

The BSP’s coalition partner, the National Movement for Stability and Progress, is looking ahead and betting on the construction of the Belene nuclear power plant, party official Solomon Passi told BNT.

Most of Purvanov’s support outside Parliament came from the newly formed political alliance Napred, backed by energy tycoon Hristo Kovachki. At a January 18 rally in Sofia, Napred asked for the restart of the Kozloduy units, a sign that the issue will be a key topic in the forthcoming election campaign.

Article 35
“If, until the end of a period of up to three years after accession, difficulties arise which are serious and liable to persist in any sector of the economy or which could bring about serious deterioration in the economic situation of a given area, Bulgaria or Romania may apply for authorisation to take protective measures to rectify the situation and adjust the sector concerned to the economy of the internal market.”

(Source: Sofia Echo)


Rod Adams said...

Alexandra - thank you for posting the videos. Unfortunately, the top one provided a message stating that the video is not available in my country or domain.

With the second one, is there any chance of getting someone to provide a translation? Unfortunately, there is no way to really tell what the protest is for or against for those of us who only speak English. (I know that limitation might be difficult for someone like you to understand. I wish I was even moderately conversant in another language.)

Alexandra Prokopenko said...

Strange that you cannot view video from CNN International - maybe because CNN in US version is a different channel and "they" do not want you to see the other side (actually, a well known US media principle of not showing their foreign propaganda to their own citizens).
As for what they are shouting, I can pick up some words like "the citizens of Bulgaria", "civic responsibility" etc. As far as I understand that video is part of an anti-governmental protest, but I will ask my mother for details (she teaches Bulgarian) and come back shortly with this.

Alexandra Prokopenko said...

I finally found out what thay were shouting - the ladie's voice in megaphone said something like "we are the citizens of Bulgaria, and we would never let those corruptionists..." while the croud was shouting out "rascals" "swine" etc.