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Bulgaria’s planned nuclear power station unlikely to ever be built

The Plan to Build a Nuclear Future From a Communist Relic, In the poorest corner of the European Union, political leaders are looking for a savior with 10 billion euros to spare. Bloomberg By James M Gomez,  Elizabeth Konstantinova, and Slav Okov, December 14, 2018,

On the edge of a small Bulgarian town on the southern bank of the Danube River lies a relic from communism with eerie echoes of one of the Soviet era’s most infamous places.

Empty apartment buildings squat on the snow like forgotten boxes. Windows are broken, facades are crumbling and weeds flourish where gardens were meant to blossom. It looks like the ghost town at the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear site 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) north.

Except the crucial difference is that the one at Belene in Bulgaria was never occupied, save for the occasional squatter. The buildings were erected in the 1980s by the government to house workers at a planned facility. But the project was scrapped, revived and scrapped again during the eastern bloc’s transition from communism to capitalism.

Now, in the heart of the European Union’s poorest corner, Bulgaria plans to get the nuclear plant off the ground for real. Facing a dilemma that’s familiar across the continent, the government says the nation can’t keep up with demand for electricity any other way.

It will solicit bids from investors early next year to build a 2,000 megawatt plant at a capped cost of 10 billion euros ($11.4 billion). The land, empty apartment blocks, already prepped foundations and two unused Russian-made reactors will be thrown in as incentives.

Like with nuclear projects everywhere, there’s opposition and—given Bulgaria’s track record—plenty of skepticism as the government makes its case with promises that the effort won’t break state coffers or saddle taxpayers with the bill.

It’s a hard sell. Governments, builders and investors across Europe are shying away from the high cost of nuclear construction and turning toward renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. The consensus of local residents, industry analysts, economists and even some lawmakers is that it won’t work. And if it does, it will be for the benefit of Russia trying to wield influence in Bulgaria.

“It’s a complete mess,” said Krassen Stanchev, head of the KC2 consultancy in Sofia, an associate professor at the Sofia University and a long-time critic of the process. “This project will never fly.”

The Center for the Study of Democracy based in the Bulgarian capital reckons there’s no need for new capacity for almost another three decades and the plant would generate losses of 4.5 billion euros by 2050.

“The main reason not to build this plant is that it will be extremely costly and it can’t offer competitive prices,” said Martin Vladimirov, an energy analyst at the center. “At some point it will turn into a stranded asset, it will turn into a zombie plant without any real role in the electricity system.”

……..Behind a kilometers-long barbed wire fence outside Belene, the proposed plant site boasts a handful of buildings and careworn warehouses. Inside them are grey wooden crates stuffed with equipment meant to secure the reactors to the foundations and connect them to the system. There is also a water treatment facility ready to go online, a spur of railway track and a concrete plant ready to pour.

The only sign of the foundations is a flat, sunken section of ground larger than a football field and surrounded by 15-story cranes that haven’t been used since the 1990s.

The reactors, bought from Rosatom in the last attempt to get the project going, are each rated at 1,000 megawatts—about the same output as Chernobyl reactors. They sit in a field boxed up against the elements.

Though the Bulgarian government is sticking to its cost estimate, most analysts say cost overruns are typical in the industry. Because of that and the strict conditions that free Bulgaria from any financial responsibility, the number of prospective investors may be limited to Russian and Asian companies. China National Nuclear Corp. and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. have both expressed interest.

“The Bulgarian government doesn’t want to provide those price guarantees and unfortunately you need that to underpin the nuclear development,” said Elchin Mammadov, an energy analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence, who says he is bearish on new projects. “It’s too risky and too expensive for a private company to fund it.”…………………

December 15, 2018 - Posted by | Bulgaria, politics

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