September 27, 2012 / 1:57 PM / in 8 years

Bulgaria mulls talks to resume Belene nuclear project

* U.S. group interested in building 2,000 MW nuclear plant

* Companies behind the consortium not yet known

* Bulgaria may relaunch abandoned project next March

SOFIA, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Bulgaria is considering talks with a U.S.-registered consortium to restart the abandoned Belene nuclear power project as a private endeavour, government officials said on Thursday.

Representatives of the recently registered Global Power Consortium have expressed interest in taking over the project to install two 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactors at the Danube River town of Belene and build it without state funds or guarantees.

Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said he would consider the bid serious if the investors deposit 200 million euros in dollars, agree to take up all liabilities of Belene so far and build it without state guarantees or long-term power purchase agreements.

“They should prove they are serious,” Borisov told reporters, adding the investors should also reveal the companies behind the consortium.

The Balkan country quit the Belene project in March after failing to attract Western investors for the plant, estimated to cost more than 10 billion euros ($12.84 billion) and on concerns it will increase Russia’s influence on its energy sector.

Bulgaria has an operational 2,000 megawatt nuclear power plant at Kozloduy and has hired U.S. Westinghouse to draw up plans to add another 1,000 MW unit at the site.

The ill-fated Belene project has put pressure on the centre-right cabinet ahead of parliamentary elections next year with the opposition Socialists demanding a referendum to restart it.

Russia’s Atomstroyexport has demanded compensation of 1 billion euros over the cancellation of the Belene plant it had been contracted to build. The claims could strain Bulgaria’s finances, as its economy slowly recovers from a deep recession.

If all the government conditions are met, a decision to restart the project can be taken next March, Energy Minister Delyan Dobrev said.

A recent poll by independent Institute for Social Surveys and Marketing showed 42 percent of the people did not support abandoning Belene and 32 percent would vote for its restart, while 22 percent will oppose it at a future referendum.

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