Sofia (AFP) Dec 7, 2007
The Bulgarian government welcomed Friday a decision by the European Commission to give the go-ahead to plans to build a new nuclear plant at Belene on the Danube.
"The commission's green light will speed up implementation of the Belene project," deputy economy and energy minister Galina Tosheva told a news conference here.
"We can now proceed to finalising the building contract by the end of the year, choosing a strategic investor in early 2008 and then designating the bank to fund the project," she said.
Bulgaria signed a 4.0-billion-euro (5.9-billion-dollar) contract with the Russian company Atomstroyexport last year to build a 2,000-megawatt facility, with Areva NP of France and Siemens of Germany as subcontractors.
But the plant's construction has been a source of controversy, with a Bulgarian nuclear expert and environmental groups warning that the site lies in a seismic zone.
Sofia had been waiting for the EU's green light before going ahead with construction.
When it approved the project on Friday, Brussels noted that the plant in Belene, near the border with Romania, included "various passive safety systems as well as improved protection against external hazards, such as earthquakes and air crashes."
Construction work on the first of the plant's two 1,000-megawatt reactors is scheduled to begin in 2008, with the first reactor expected to be operational by January 2014 and the second a year later.
The Belene plant will help make up for electricity production capacity lost when the EU ordered Bulgaria to shut down four of its six nuclear reactors at another plant at Kozloduy owing to safety concerns.
Prior to the shut down Bulgaria had been a major electricity exporter in the Balkans, but it cut all its exports this year.
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