Bulgaria Resumes East Europe's Biggest Atomic Project in Decades

(Bloomberg) -- Bulgaria’s parliament gave the green light to resume construction of an abandoned nuclear plant that may become one of the biggest power projects in eastern Europe in decades.

Lawmakers voted 172 to 14, with 2 abstentions, to lift a six-year ban on a 2,000-megawatt plant at Belene on the Danube river, Speaker Tsveta Karayancheva told the assembly in Sofia Thursday. The motion lets the government start a tender for a strategic investor without state guarantees or preferential power purchase prices, according to the decision.

“Now the government’s hands are untied,” Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova told lawmakers.“There is real investment interest from several companies, which are global energy leaders, and we can create something that will guarantee Bulgaria’s energy security.”

The Balkan nation of 7 million lifted the ban before a meeting between Chinese and eastern European leaders and investors scheduled in Sofia for July as part of China’s effort to expand its footprint in Europe. Rosatom, China National Nuclear Corp. and Paris-based Framatome SA, majority owned by Electricite de France SA, have expressed interest in the project according to Bulgaria’s energy ministry.

China, Russia

The Belene construction has a history of cancellations and restarts since the 1990s. It was last halted in 2012 after a dispute with Russia’s Rosatom Corp. over the price, then estimated at 10 billion euros ($11.8 billion). Approved scenarios for the project’s comeback range from Chinese investment to Russian funding at preferential terms, similar to the $14 billion Paks project in Hungary.

Bulgaria’s state-owned National Electricity Co. repaid 602 million euros for purchased equipment, including two nuclear reactors, to Rosatom in 2016 following an arbitration dispute. The government will participate in the new project with the assets it already owns.

Bulgaria now operates the Soviet-built Kozloduy nuclear power plant with two reactors, 1,000 megawatts each.

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