On 14 November, Bulgarians voted in a general election which produced a fragmented parliament consisting of seven political parties spanning the full range of the political spectrum.
The election was won by the newcomer liberal centrist ‘Continuing the Change’ (PP in Bulgarian) party with 26% of the vote – not enough to form a majority. The party began negotiations to form a government with three other parties, including socialists, centrists, and liberal conservatives.
The PP said it is “definitely pro nuclear power” and “Bulgaria will never be left without nuclear power”, which is a matter of national security and not just an economic consideration.
Preliminary discussions on energy issues earlier this week were marked by the aim to reform Bulgarian energy policies in view of the European Union’s decarbonisation drive and define the role of nuclear power among other sources.
Bulgaria has two Russia-made VVER-1000 pressurised water reactor units in commercial operation at Kozloduy on the Danube River, which provide about a third of its electricity.
The country’s pervious government was in favour of nuclear power and revived the long-suspended Belene nuclear power project, but it was not able to finalise a procedure for attracting investors, despite international interest.
After losing an international arbitration case to Russia in 2016, Bulgaria had to pay €600m to Russian suppliers for the bulk of the nuclear equipment ordered for Belene. As a result, in 2018, the government led by then prime-minister Boiko Borisov formally revived the project.
In January 2021, the Bulgarian cabinet approved a report on the possibility of building a new nuclear power unit at the existing Kozloduy site and announced discussions with US-based NuScale for potential deployment of small modular reactors. The government said at the time Belene was not to be discontinued despite the new developments.
Bulgaria’s new government will have to find a way forward for nuclear power, but the political parties involved do not appear to be on the same page regarding what projects should be prioritised.
PP said it sees the existing Kozloduy plant as a priority and wants a public review of all expenses so far for the Belene project.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party, which has long supported the Belene project and was in power when the project began in 2008, wants the completion of the facility included in the formal coalition agreement, a move which other parties opposed.
The centrist ‘There is Such a People’ party, also a newcomer in Bulgarian politics, called for the termination of the Belene project and construction of new nuclear plants at Kozloduy. The Belene site could be turned into a green hydrogen production facility instead, party representatives said.
The liberal conservative coalition Democratic Bulgaria (DBg), which includes the Bulgarian Greens in its ranks, also called for the cancellation of Belene, but expressed support for lifetime extensions at the existing two Kozloduy units until 2049.
DBg said it is not opposed to nuclear power in principle, but wants an external audit to analyse the cost and efficiency of nuclear and assess whether Bulgaria will need nuclear baseload power by 2030-2035.
No formal agreement has been reached between the four parties as negotiations continue on other topics. Bulgaria’s president is expected to convene the new parliament next week when a mandate will be given to PP to formally propose a cabinet. A formal coalition agreement with clear policy mandates would need to be reached before ministerial posts are assigned.