March 2, 2018 / 2:03 PM / 18 days ago

Bulgarian lawmakers demand decision on fate of nuclear plant by end of June

SOFIA, March 2 (Reuters) - The Energy Ministry should draw up proposals by the end of June on whether to proceed with or scrap plans for Bulgaria’s Belene nuclear power project, parliament decided on Friday.

The Black Sea state initially cancelled the project in 2012 after failing to find foreign investors and bowing to U.S. and European Union pressure to limit the country’s energy dependence on Russia, which would have supplied some equipment.

But the current government renewed the search for private investors to build the plant on the Danube River after an arbitration court ruled in 2016 that Bulgaria had to pay more than 600 million euros ($739 million) in compensation to Russian state nuclear company Rosatom due to the cancellation.

The plant would be Bulgaria’s second nuclear power station after the Kozloduy power plant, also on the Danube River.

The chairman of parliament’s energy commission, Delyan Dobrev, said Friday’s demand by lawmakers for the Energy Ministry to make a decision about the project’s fate “does not exclude any option for the government.”

Bulgaria has spent more than 3 billion levs ($1.89 billion)on the project so far, Dobrev said, adding that lawmakers wanted clarity on what would now happen to those assets.

“Today we do not make a decision to build or not to build the Belene nuclear power plant, we do not make a decision to have additional nuclear power or not,” he said.

Lawmakers from the ruling centre-right GERB party said any potential investors in future should be willing to build the plant without state guarantees and without long-term power purchase agreements.

Bulgaria’s Socialists, the largest opposition party, and Attack, part of the United Patriots grouping that is a junior partner in the ruling coalition, are among those calling for the project to be restarted.

But several economists say Bulgaria does not need Belene, saying the cost of building it outweighs the benefits. They say such a large project offered potential for corruption, a problem they say is widespread in the Balkan nation.

Prosecutors have charged three former energy ministers over mismanagement linked to the project.

($1 = 0.8119 euros)

$1 = 1.5900 leva Reporting by Angel Krasimirov Editing by Edmund Blair

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