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Tepid Voter Turnout Sets Back Bulgarian Nuclear Power Plans

By John Daly | Sun, 03 February 2013 00:00 | 1

Whatever one can say about nuclear power, the 11 March 2011 debacle at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s six reactor Fukushima Daiichi, complex, has refocused public attention on the potential perils of nuclear power generation.

In Britain, the Cumbria County Council, whose region includes the picturesque Lake District, voted against hosting an underground "geological disposal facility" nuclear landfill amid concerns about safety and the threat to tourism.

Japan?

A poll conducted in the winter of 2011 found nearly 80 percent, 4/5ths of those contacted, favoring phasing out the country’s nuclear energy program.

Bulgarians are made of sterner stuff. On 27 January, the Bulgarian citizenry had a chance to cast their opinions on the feasibility of constructing a 2,000 megawatt nuclear power plant at Belene on the Danube.

The good news for nuclear proponents?

Roughly 61 percent of those voting cast their ballots in favor of the NPP’s construction.

Related article: Iran to Install Thousands of New Centrifuges for Nuclear Enrichment

The bad news?

Only 21 percent of those eligible to vote in the “yes/no” referendum cast their ballots, far below the 60 percent required for the result to be binding, but above the 20 percent required to trigger official debate and consideration in parliament.

The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party pushed through the non-binding referendum after the conservative government of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov scrapped the construction of the Belene NPP last year. The government applied vague wording to the ballot measure, not referring to Belene, but merely "building a new nuclear plant."

The official notice of the referendum reminded participants that the country's energy policy of June 2011, “declared its support for the development of nuclear energy... in search of a reasonable balance between available energy resources in the country and European targets for clean energy,” adding that “decisions on the specific socio-economic, technical and financial parameters of each project are the responsibility of the council of ministers.”

The Belene NPP has had a troubled history. Initially planned in the 1970s under the country’s previous Communist regime, Belen was already partly built until Borisov scrapped the project over cost concerns, as economists projected that the facility could require up to $13.5 in investment, roughly a quarter of the nation’s gross domestic product. Further annoying Bulgarian nationalists, the project was being developed by Russian state-owned company Rosatom, which had lobbied heavily for the project, raising further concerns about expanding Russian influence in the country’s energy sector as Bulgaria currently imports100 percent of its gas from Russia.

Related article: Kazakh Uranium: Eastern Giant Attracts Western Attention

Low voter turnout aside, the referendum raised an interesting question - how many other European Union countries would have voted in favor of nuclear plant construction?

So, apparently for the present, Bulgaria will trundle along with its current energy policies. Last August Bulgaria and Gazprom signed an investment contract to construct the South Stream pipeline, to bypass Ukraine, along with a new gas-supply agreement, which involves an 11 percent price cut for the second half of 2012.  Energy and Economy Minister Delyan Dobrev told reporters that Bulgaria wants to reduce the amount it needs to pay to participate in the pipeline joint venture, estimated at around $642 million.

Bulgaria accordingly remains beholden to Russia, whichever way you look at it, an interesting position for a NATO and European Union member state to be in.

Any alternatives?

Well, for the past several years Chevron and other U.S. companies have been touting hydraulic fracturing’s appeal, but in 2010 protest began, resulting in Parliament in January 2012 banning the practice, despite the fatherly advice of the United States ambassador in Bulgaria. Six months later, after intensive lobbying, the ban was partially lifted, and many Bulgarians believe that eventually it will be withdrawn.

In the meantime, make your checks out to “Gazprom.”

By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com

Leave a comment

  • SA Kiteman on February 04 2013 said:
    Perhaps they should coordinate with the Czechs and build a prototype Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR). At that point they should be able to build as many Small Modular LFTRs as they may need. And they should be Leaner, Cleaner, and Greener than ANY other power source. Maybe they could use FLiBe Energy's help.

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