In the interests of accuracy and fair debate, it should be noted that the Bulgarian reactors referred to below, are NOT of the same design as those at Chernobyl, despite many implications that they are the same, but a more modern PWR design with more reliable safety features.
Bulgaria is set to close two more reactors at its Kozloduy nuclear power station. Since Kozloduy generates 40% of Bulgaria's electricity, and supplants around 80% of the growing power shortfalls in its neighbouring southern European states, in terms of its exports, the future looks dim. The European Union has been attempting to coerce the closure of Kozloduy for a number of years, on grounds of fear for its safety. The move will be seen as a strong commitment to Bulgaria's accession to the EU, which it is due to join in the next wave of "enlargement" in 2007 (i.e. next year). Nonetheless, what exactly will be done to supplement the abrupt disengagement of such a large proportion of Balkan electricity remains a "black-hole", which senior officials are staring into, but no illumination escapes from it.
Bulgaria's electricity production will drop in 2007, until a second nuclear plant is built - expected in 2012 (the year of the "London Olympics") - and is anticipated to cover 60% of South East Europe's electricity imports. A new 670 MW coal-fired power plant (Maritsa Iztok 1) is being constructed by the American company AES, and is expected to be up and running by 2010 - 2011, which, if on schedule, will take the edge of Bulgaria's export limitations. It looks like a frugal three or four years, though, at best.
To bridge the gap meanwhile, Bulgaria intends to rely on a hydroelectric power installation (Tsanikov Kamuk) and a gas-fired plant in the capital, Sofia. Together, some 210 MW capacity will be thus secured. Reactors 1 and 2 were closed at Kozloduy some years ago, and so the planned closure of the remaining two (reactors 3 and 4) of the "old" design (440 MW each) leaves two more modern reactors running with an output of 1000 MW each. Mardik Papazyan, who is the executive director of the National Electric Company (NEC) has said that if one of the two remaining Kozloduy reactors should fail to operate, electricity could be imported from Romania and Serbia. It is interesting, however, that these are two of the southern European nations who currently depend on Bulgarian electricity exports, and so it is difficult to see how they might do this, especially while trying to meet their own rising demand for electricity.
At longer odds, Bulgaria is placing bets on the construction of a new 2000 MW nuclear power plant at Belene.The seriousness of the situation is voiced plainly by Papazyan who is quoted as saying, "without Belene, we cannot guarantee that Bulgaria will not need to import electricity after 2013-2015" (and this is after the initial "new" plant is built in 2012). He also confirmed that with Belene, 60% of Bulgaria's power exports could still be met, and that the plant could be built in six years time: the main contractor for it will be selected by early August.
The Maritsa Iztok 1 coal-fired power plant is the biggest single foreign investment so far made in Bulgaria, and is one of the largest greenfield initiatives in South east Europe. The plant will be situated near the town of Gulubovo in south eastern Bulgaria (for geographical comparison, Kozloduy is located in the north of the country, near to the border with Romania.). The base load operation will serve to provide electricity for Bulgaria and South East Europe, including Serbia. A "clean-combustion" technology will be employed, and 12% of the investment is to provide desulphurisation plants. The coal-fired plant Maritsa Iztok 3 also looks set for a windfall, as the Italian company Enel is considering making an investment of over 500 million Euro's to build an additional 900 MW unit to supplement the 840 MW plant that is there currently.
The whole issue of energy control in Bulgaria is one of potential political power, since whoever owns and operates either the nuclear Belene or the "clean-coal" fired Maritsa Iztok (whichever comes first, and probably the latter) will have the considerable advantage of a carte-blanc to trade electricity all over the southern European region. However the cards fall, there will be some lean years to be negotiated, immediately following the loss of output from the closed reactors 3 and 4 at Kozloduy.
For an update regarding this story, please see later article: "Bulgarian Reactors are Not of Chernobyl Design", posted February 29th, 2008.