Bulgaria Nuclear Debate Resumes

Friday, December 7, 2007

Sofia - Opponents of Bulgaria’s controversial planned nuclear power station at Belene have asked the European Commission to oppose its construction, according to Bulgarian media reports on Monday.Work on building two 1,000 megawatts reactors at Belene, near Bulgaria’s northern border with Romania, was initially approved in 1981, but the construction project was abandoned in 1990 when many communist-era investment projects were reviewed.
As Bulgaria was required by the EU to close four obsolete - and potentially unsafe - nuclear reactors in recent years, Sofia has revived the Belene project to meet the country’s energy shortfall.

In October the Bulgarian National Electricity Company awarded the construction contract to the Russian "Atomstroyeksport" company.

Environmentalists met members of the European Commission’s Transport and Energy unit on Friday to help block the construction of the new plant.

Opponents insist that the planned power station is dangerous to the environment since it is being built in a potential earthquake area, and the Russian reactors that are be installed there are not safe enough.

The European Commission's position on Belene is to be announced by the end of the year.

Bulgaria does not need EU permission to proceed with the construction of the plant, but a positive stance by Brussels is crucial to secure loans for the project.

One of Belene’s opponents, Georgi Kaschiev, a former head of Bulgaria's official committee on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and now a senior nuclear physicist at Vienna University, told Bulgarian media that there were many problems with the planned nuclear plant, not all of them environmental.

"It is mainly a source of corruption," Kaschiev said, arguing that the government had paid much more than the going rate for an environmental risk evaluation that would pave the way for its construction.

Kaschiev, who was at Friday's meeting with European Commission officials, added that seismic activity in the region was so high that in the 1980s a Russian scientist advised the government to change the location of the future plant.

The Bulgarian National Electricity Company says the environmentalists’ claims are unfounded.

"Our goal is to continue to develop economically effective and ecologically clean energy so we will proceed with the Belene project”, the company says.

In March 1977 in the town of Svishtov which is 13 km from Belene an earthquake destroyed a large number of buildings and killed 120 people.

Copyright BalkanInsight.com 2007

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