Bulgaria's nuclear plant prepares to close old reactors

KOZLODUY, Jun 18, 2000 -- (Reuters) Bulgaria's nuclear power plant at Kozloduy is getting ready to close down two of its oldest reactors as promised to the European Union and to modernize the four remaining, its chief said on Friday

"We are preparing for the closure of reactors one and two in 2002 or 2003," Executive Director Yordan Yordanov told a news conference.

Bulgaria, which started talks on joining the EU in March, had bowed to its pressure and agreed to close the two 440-megawatt reactors at the Soviet-designed plant before 2003. They were previously due to close in 2004 and 2005 respectively.

A final decision over closing the a further two aging reactors will be taken after Bulgaria updates its energy strategy in 2002 and negotiates with the European Commission.

The understanding of the commission is that final closure of these reactors takes place in 2006 at the latest, officials have said. The current energy strategy of the Balkan country envisages shutdowns in 2008 and 2010.

But Yordanov said reconstruction of reactors three and four would continue, indicating that Bulgaria might want to keep them going for longer.

"After their reconstruction we hope that they will reach an internationally acceptable safety level and we will be permitted to operate them to the end of their operational life," he said.

Bulgaria gets almost half of its energy from the 3,760-megawatt Kozloduy plant, located some 200 km (120 miles) north of Sofia on the Danube River.

The plant also has two more modern 1,000-megawatt reactors and two weeks ago the European Commission signed a 212.5 million euro ($223 million) loan to help modernize them.

The overall modernization program will cost 490 million euros and the balance of its cost is to be covered by U.S. and Russian credits and by plant's own funds, Yordanov said.

Most of the work is carried out by a consortium, comprising Germany's Siemens AG, France's Framatome and Russia's Atomenergoexport. The remaining will be performed by U.S.-based Westinghouse.

"We have already started the modernization with our own funds and hope to be awarded a $90 million credit from a Russian bank within two months and another loan from a U.S. lending institution," Yordanov said.

The plant, which was set up as a legal entity separate from the National Electricity Company (NEC) on April 28, has agreed with the NEC "favorable prices" for its production. Kozloduy plans to produce 17 billion kilowatt hours this year.

Yordanov said prices agreed with the NEC, which is the country's single buyer under a program for restructuring the energy sector, would help the Kozloduy plant make a profit this year and carry out its overhaul projects.

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