The Belene Nuclear Power Plant (Атомна електроцентрала „Белене“) is a nuclear power plant currently under construction 3 km from Belene and 11 km from Svishtov in Pleven Province, northern Bulgaria, near the Danube River. It is planned to substitute four outdated VVER-440 V230 reactors of the Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant.
The foundations of the future power plant were laid in 1987 after the design of Atomenergoproekt Kiev from the USSR and Energoproekt Sofia. The design suggested the construction of four VVER-1000/V 320 reactors. Between 1988 and 1990 40% of the construction work of reactor 1 was finished and 80% of the equipment was supplied. The project was abandoned in 1990 due to the democratic changes in Bulgaria and only conservational work was done.
A working group of experts was formed by an order of the Ministry of Energetics and Power Resources of 27 May 2003, which included experts from the Ministry of Energetics and Power Resources, the Ministry of Environment and Waters, the Ministry of Transport and Communication, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Healthcare, the Agency for Nuclear Regulation, the State Commission for Power Regulation, the State Agency for Civil Protection, the National Electric Company and BulAtom. A programme for the exprert commission's work was approved on 4 July 2003.
In late October 2006 the offer of the Russian Atomstroyexport, the French Framatome (Areva), and the German Siemens using third-generation VVER-1000/V-446B reactors was approved by the National Electric Company. The offer was selected due to the highest safety level guaranteed by several new independent active and passive safety systems, as well as the option for Atomstroyexport to buy back the old unit supplied in the 1980s. Another reasons was the 60-year operation term. According to the Atomstroyexport president, the first unit would be in operation by 2013 and the second a year later. On 7 December 2007 the European Commission gave its favourable opinion to the NPP, saying that it met all requirements of articles 41 to 44 of the Euratom Treaty. A favourable opinion of the EC is one of the requirements for a Euratom loan. On
On 18 January 2008, Atomstroyexport and Bulgaria's National Electric Company (NEC) signed the contract for the design, construction and installation of blocks 1 and 2 of the Belene NPP. On 3 September 2008, the construction of the Belene NPP officially started. According to Minister of Energetics, the Belene plant would operate "the most secure reactors existing in the world"; he also asserted that "the chance there would be a failure in those reactors is practically zero". Prime Minister Stanishev and Dimitrov also called the project "a Renaissance for Bulgaria's nuclear energy" and "the largest industrial project in Bulgaria in the last eighteen years". More than 10,000 construction workers would be employed in the project, with the first reactor expected to be operating by the end of 2013, the second by the end of 2014.
Ground was broken in September 2008, with concrete to be poured in May 2009.
It was announced in May 2005 that the electricity produced by the Belene NPP would cost between 3.2 and 3.7 eurocents per kW·h, meaning it would be the most expensive electric power ever produced in Bulgaria. For comparison, the plant producing the most expensive power in the country is currently the thermal Bobov Dol Power Plant selling the National Electric Company electricity for 4.85 stotinki or 2.48 eurocents per kW·h, and the Kozloduy NPP produces electricity for 1.49 stotinki (0.76 eurocents) as of 2005.
There is controversy over the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which "does not contain adequate information on the seismic conditions, nor does it address beyond design basis accidents or give details of the potential impacts of decommissioning". Furthermore, following legal action by environmental groups, the authors of the original EIA confirmed, in court, that it was flawed and would require a new EIA once a designer and builder were appointed. The total cost of the project is now estimated by the operator to be around €7 billion (€4 billion for the power stations plus associated infrastructure development costs).
Environmental organizations Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth (Europe), Urgewald, Bankwatch, World Information Service on Energy and the Bulgarian NGO BeleNE! oppose the plant's construction, and have expressed the following concerns:
Concerns regarding the construction of the plant have mainly been felt in nearby Romania, with articles in the newspapers such as Cotidianul, România Liberă and Ziarul even going as far as comparing the project with Chernobyl despite a new generation of VVER reactors is to be used, and not the cheaper graphite-moderated RBMK series like Chernobyl's.
In short, critics say the project is economically flawed, open to corruption and mismanagement, and will cement Russian dominance of Bulgaria's energy sector. The government says global energy pressures make the project necessary.