Speculation of Rosatom Participation in the Belene Nuclear Power Plant Persists, as Bid Deadline Delayed Due to Coronavirus

In Jan­u­ary 2020, Rus­si­a’s Atom­en­er­go­prom (a sub­sidiary of Rosatom) and Chi­na Nation­al Nuclear Cor­po­ra­tion (CNNC) were among a group of multi­na­tion­al com­pa­nies short­list­ed as poten­tial strate­gic investors of the $10 bil­lion Belene Nuclear Pow­er Plant (NPP) in Bul­gar­ia.  Oth­er com­pa­nies include Korea Hydro and Nuclear Pow­er, France’s Fram­atome and U.S.-based Gen­er­al Elec­tric.  Ini­tial­ly, bind­ing bids for the project were due by May 31, 2020, how­ev­er, this sub­mis­sion dead­line has been post­poned due to the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic.

Although many spec­u­late that Russ­ian par­tic­i­pa­tion in the project is like­ly, Bul­gar­i­an offi­cials have pushed back on this assump­tion in part based on the con­cerns that are implied about Russ­ian influ­ence and relat­ed strate­gic depen­den­cies.

Last year Prime Min­is­ter Boyko Borisov reject­ed the “’dog­ma’ that NPP Belene is a ‘Russ­ian project,’” argu­ing that Bul­gar­ia has paid for both reac­tors and that they are Bul­gar­i­an prop­er­ty.  Borisov said that the project could become “very beau­ti­ful” with Amer­i­can tur­bines and Fran­co-Ger­man equip­ment, adding that com­pe­ti­tion will have the last word.

A pre­vi­ous iter­a­tion of the project, which was scrapped in 2012 was award­ed to Rosatom unit, Atom­stroy­ex­port.  When the project was can­celled, Bul­gar­ia was forced to pay approx­i­mate­ly $664.8 mil­lion in com­pen­sa­tion to the Russ­ian enti­ty for work and equip­ment that had already been com­mis­sioned.  The Belene project was ulti­mate­ly revived by Sofia to make use of the reac­tors the coun­try had already pur­chased. 

The Belene NPP is expect­ed to sup­ple­ment Bulgaria’s Sovi­et-era Kozlo­duy NPP, the country’s only nuclear plant that sup­plies approx­i­mate­ly 30% of the country’s ener­gy needs.  Where­as, Bul­gar­ia derives most of its ener­gy from domes­tic coal pro­duc­tion, the coun­try is like­ly to be increas­ing­ly depen­dent on nuclear and gas, as pres­sure mounts for Bul­gar­ia to com­ply with EU cli­mate pol­i­cy standards.Nuclear pow­er plants also car­ry inher­ent strate­gic impor­tance due to their long lifes­pan, the large costs involved, the pres­ence of large state-owned for­eign con­trac­tors, their influ­ence over large-scale sub­con­tracts over­seen with­in the host coun­try as well as the depen­den­cies cre­at­ed on import­ed nuclear fuel.  Accord­ing­ly, a country’s choice of con­trac­tor in this sec­tor has sig­nif­i­cant strate­gic impli­ca­tions.