The main goal of IRIS in assessing the NPP Belene project is aimed at developing a comprehensive picture of the liabilities and the effects which the construction of this facility will have on Bulgaria’ energy market, on the sustainability of the energy system and the energy consumption in the country for the next 3-5 decades and on the functioning of the Bulgarian political and public administration system in mid-term perspective. The IRIS analyses will also particularly focus on the larger strategic and security context that NPP Belene will create in completing the monopolization of the Bulgarian energy system by Russia – bringing it under total Russian control.
Problems Identification. A brief analysis of the situation
The Belene Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) project was re-opened in 2005 by the government of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The project originally started in the early 1980s and was suspended after the collapse of the communist system in 1989. The early closure of the 1-2 and 3-4 units of Bulgaria’s sole NPP Kozloudoui, demanded by the European Commission, was advocated as a major injustice done to Bulgaria by Bulgaria’s Russian nuclear lobby. Re-opening the NPP Belene project was presented to the public as a legitimate compensation for the Kozloudoui reactors closure. In the course of the last six years – since 2005 – the Belene project developed as the most controversial, non-transparent and questioned endeavor in the Bulgarian energy sector. The irregularities of the Belene project development frame a reality of the allegedly most corrupt deal within the history of Bulgaria’s post-communist transition – a transition which is overburdened with corruption and abuse of economic and institutional power. The most problematic features of the project are: Lack of a needs assessment study. The project was originally launched by a decision of the old communist rule without any clear justification – Bulgaria has always been an exporter of energy and there was no express need for new capacities both back in the 1980s and in the 2000s upon its re-launch; Lack of a risk assessment. Belene is a risk-ridden seismic zone, as scientific studies and practice has shown. This aspect is even more sensitive today after the Fukushima tragedy in Japan; Lack of a feasibility study. There is no clear analysis how the project can be financed without enslaving the Bulgarian taxpayers with debt repayment for decades to come; and Lack of sustainability study. It is not clear where the Belene-generated power will be sold so that the investment can be returned – Bulgaria is exporting surplus energy even now, and both Romania and Turkey are in an advanced phase of building their own NPP capacities, so a surplus of energy generation in the region can be foreseen (what is more, technology advance in energy efficiency will tend to lower general consumption, not raise it). All these problems pose a serious question whether Bulgaria needs NPP Belene at all.
A very important aspect is also the energy dependence on a single country source which this project will increase. Bulgaria currently is totally dependent on Russian natural gas and petrol imports, with power generation being the only independent branch in the sector. A construction of NPP Belene under Russian terms will bring this branch under Russian control, too, in direct contradiction with EU-prescribed diversification of energy sources.
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