Russia Pushes Bulgaria to Decide on Oil Pipeline, Nuclear Plant

By Anna Shiryaevskaya and Elizabeth Konstantinova

Russia urged Bulgaria to speed up decisions to allow the countries to start building an oil pipeline bypassing Turkey’s Bosporus strait and a nuclear power plant on the Danube River.

“We didn’t discuss concrete timelines, but we should head into the homestretch and we expect final decisions on the fate of the project soon,” Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko told reporters in Moscow late yesterday after meeting with his Bulgarian counterpart Traicho Traikov.

Bulgaria delayed approval for construction of the oil pipeline from the Black Sea port of Burgas to the Greek port of Alexandroupolis, on the Aegean, in late March for a second time as it assesses the impact on the environment.

The Bulgarian government extended the deadline for the report by two months as it considers concerns that an oil spill would harm tourism at the country’s Black Sea resorts.

Bulgaria always adheres to its international agreements and doesn’t plan to change that, Traikov said. The Russian government has shown understanding, he said.

Russia, Bulgaria and Greece agreed in 2007 to build the 1 billion-euro ($1.4 billion) link to bypass the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, saving shipping costs. The 285-kilometer (177-mile) pipeline will be able to carry as much as 35 million metric tons of oil a year. A referendum held in the Burgas region in 2008 opposed the pipeline on grounds that there would be a high risk of an oil spill from tankers filling it.
Nuclear Safety

Bulgaria and Russia also aim to resolve outstanding issues on a project to build a new 2,000-megawatt nuclear power plant at Belene on the Danube, Shmatko said.

The Bulgarian authorities are carrying out additional analysis on nuclear safety after Japan’s worst-ever earthquake and tsunami last month damaged reactors and led to radiation leaks. This has raised concerns about the fate of the much- delayed project in Bulgaria.

“We believe that our project meets all necessary safety standards,” Shmatko said. “I am sure it will pass this test for higher security requirements that will now, of course, apply to all nuclear power projects.”

Bulgaria is focusing on safety to ensure that residents are calm and no disasters occur, Traikov said.

Bulgaria has sought to construct a nuclear plant to meet growing energy needs as older utilities are decommissioned. The project stalled after a contract with Russian state-owned Rosatom Corp. was signed in 2005 because of a lack of funding and disagreements over Russia’s demands for higher construction costs.

Rosatom increased the price to about 6.4 billion euros from 4 billion euros because of delayed construction. Bulgaria estimates the cost at about 5 billion euros.

“I am optimistic about prospects of the Belene plant construction,” Shmatko said. “We need to find mutually acceptable solutions to the remaining issues, within documents that have previously been signed between our countries and companies.”
The Bloomberg