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Bulgaria’s Westinghouse nuclear deal irks socialist circles

Bulgaria’s Westinghouse nuclear deal irks socialist circles
 

By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of the Sofia Globe

Bulgaria’s former economy minister Dragomir Stoynev has been forced, once again, to defend the nuclear deal with US firm Westinghouse from criticism within his own party, the socialists.

The Plamen Oresharski cabinet, which officially ended its term on August 6, signed last week a shareholder agreement with Westinghouse to build a 1000MW nuclear reactor at Bulgaria’s sole nuclear power plant at Kozloduy.

Stoynev, who was elevated to deputy leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) in early July and came close to becoming the new party leader only 10 days ago, has been the main target of harsh criticism inside the party in recent days.

Speaking to private Bulgarian broadcaster bTV on August 7, Stoynev sought to deflect the criticism, saying that it was not his decision alone to sign the agreement.

“There are three cabinet decisions on the issue, it has been discussed in three boardrooms. I am not the one signing the contract. All the [former] ministers and the [former] prime minister are familiar with it,” Stoynev said.

BSP’s leadership has also met with Westinghouse management, he said, although he did not say when that happened. Just days before the signing, however, Westinghouse CEO Danny Roderick visited Bulgaria to meet with senior politicians and assess support for the $5.3 billion project.

Stoynev once again reiterated that the shareholder agreement held no financial commitments for Bulgaria, a point also made by Roderick during his visit.

“Let the caretaker cabinet make the contract public, which, as I say again, does not carry any financial commitment for the state,” he said. The contract did contain some confidential information and required Westinghouse’s approval to be made public, according to Stoynev.

Despite initially indicating that would leave the decision to its successor, the Oresharski administration surprisingly announced that it signed the shareholder agreement on August 1, drawing immediate criticism from the BSP, which held the government mandate for the Oresharski cabinet.

The matter also caused some degree of confusion, as Stoynev said at the time that the agreement would only go into force if approved by the next government – but he did not clarify whether that meant the caretaker cabinet appointed ahead of October 5 early parliamentary elections, or the government that will take office after the elections.

Stoynev’s dealings with Westinghouse have been a constant source of criticism against the former minister, going back to last year, when he said – upon returning from a trip to the US – that he would recommend that the Oresharski cabinet begin talks with Westinghouse for the construction of a new nuclear unit at Kozloduy. Bulgaria opened formal negotiations with Westinghouse in December 2013.

The BSP has long been in favour of the project to build two 1000MW reactors at Belene, a short distance down the Danube River from Kozloduy, using Russian technology. That project, however, was shelved in 2012 by the centre-right government of GERB, the socialists’ main rivals in domestic politics, who argued that the cost of Belene – estimated by consultants HSBC at about 10.4 billion euro – was unreasonably high.

Despite the promise to restart the Belene project, which was one of the cornerstones of the BSP electoral campaign in the spring of 2013, the Oresharski administration made little efforts in that sense. The government has also made little progress towards resolving the arbitration dispute with Russia’s Atomstroyexport, contracted to build the Belene reactors, which claims more than one billion euro in damages from the halting of the project.

 

(Kozloduy nuclear power plant. Photo: uvioc/flickr.co)

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