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Russian firms ready for Bulgarian nuclear project: minister

by Staff Writers
Sofia (AFP) Dec 11, 2009
Russian investors are ready to take part in Bulgaria's nuclear plant project in Belene following the withdrawal of German utility RWE, Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said Friday.

"Russia wants to see the project continue and we are currently holding constructive dialogue with the Bulgarian government to find a fair corporate solution allowing us to secure the further development of Belene," Shmatko said after intergovernmental energy talks in Sofia.

He said he had spoken to the Bulgarian government of "the interest of Russian companies to become shareholders in Belene."

RWE's withdrawal from the 10-billion-euro (14.6-billion-dollar) project for a new nuclear power plant on the Danube prompted Bulgaria to seek new investors to take up the German utility's 49-percent stake in the project.

Severe shortage of funding for the 2,000-megawatt plant also made Bulgaria's government consider selling part of its own 51-percent share in Belene, according to Economy and Energy Minister Traicho Traikov.

"The entry of new investors in the project under mutually acceptable conditions is of interest to Bulgaria. The Russian side, on the other hand, is interested in securing the development of the project ... So the participation of Russian companies as shareholders is an option," Traikov said Friday.

Traikov did not however say when the government would call the international tender for new investors for the plant, for which it had already chosen a builder -- the Russian company Atomstroyexport.

Neither Traikov nor Shmatko would say how big a stake the Russian investors might take up.

Shmatko meanwhile said Russia was ready to provide Bulgaria with a government loan to help it fund the project.

Bulgaria's new right-wing government had refused to offer the necessary state guarantees for the credit and Shmatko said Friday that Russia understood Bulgaria's reluctance to take up more debt amid the current economic and financial crisis.

But he underlined the importance of the project for both Bulgaria and Russia and said it was necessary to overcome "the current uncertainties" surrounding Belene's future.

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