Thursday, 14 February 2013

Failed referendum leaves Bulgaria without nuclear future
31 Jan 2013

A referendum on nuclear power in Bulgaria failed due to low turnout, and the country's ruling party has confirmed it will not build a new nuclear plant. Critics warn that without nuclear power, Bulgaria may become a third-world country in 20 years. The referendum, which was supposed to determine the future course of nuclear power in Bulgaria, has been officially declared invalid: The final voter turnout was about 20%, far less than the required 60%.

Nearly 61% of voters who participated in Sunday's referendum approved of building the nuclear plant. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov confirmed that his ruling center-right GERB party would not resume construction on a nuclear power plant in Belene. In March 2012, the GERB party scrapped the 2,000 MW nuclear plant project, which had been under construction by Russia's Atomstroyexport since 2008. The Bulgarian government said that the country could no longer afford the plant's €6.4 billion price tag.

During the negotiations that preceded the cancellation, GERB attempted to bring an American or European contractor on to the project. Bulgaria also demanded that the price be lowered to less than 5 billion €, which Atomstroyexport refused to do. A breakdown in negotiations led to the termination of the project.

Following the failure of the project, the opposition Socialist party called for a referendum on the Belene plant. Though the government supported the referendum, Prime Minister Borisov urged Bulgarians to vote against the project. "The question [of the referendum] was put pretty vaguely, no one explained to an average voter the particulars of nuclear power", Krasimira Ilieva of the Bulgarian Nuclear Society told RT.

Bulgarian Socialist MP Peter Kurumbashev said the plant would eventually have justified the expense. Kurumbashev told RT that the cost of the nuclear plant proposed by Atomstroyexport is good, when compared to the costs of similar nuclear plants proposed for construction in neighboring Turkey. "It takes 12 14 years to pay back the money, whereas [the] life of this type of reactors is 60 years. So, in the next 44 years you're just 'printing' money", he said, adding that the referendum had become too politicized and unclear.

Kurumbashev said that negative campaign continued throughout the entirety of the referendum. The ruling party even said there was no need for referendum at all, "which is a very interesting statement on the part of [a] democracy", he said. The Socialist Party of Bulgaria announced plans to revive the project if they win the 2013 elections.

Bulgaria currently operates only one nuclear power plant in Kozloduy, about 200 km from the capital Sofia, which went online in 1974. At its peak production, the plant's six reactors delivered over 45% of Bulgaria's electricity. The EU ordered four of the reactors to be shut down over safety concerns.

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