May 11, 2017 / 6:07 PM / 3 months ago

Bulgaria seeks private investors for nuclear project

SOFIA, May 11 (Reuters) - Bulgaria is seeking private investors to build a nuclear power plant on the Danube River, which was cancelled five years ago, Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

Sofia cancelled the Belene project in 2012 after failing to find foreign investors and under pressure from Brussels and Washington to limit its energy dependence on Russia.

Since then Bulgaria has opened a gas link with neighbouring Romania and is working to connect its gas network with neighbouring Greece, Turkey and Serbia to diversify its suppliers.

It hopes to privatise the nuclear plant project after it paid more than 600 million euros ($652 million) in compensation to Russia's state nuclear giant Rosatom when it cancelled the 10 billion euro project. Rosatom had agreed to provide the nuclear reactors.

Bulgarian authorities have already said that Belene could be built without state guarantees or obligatory long-term contracts for the government to purchase power from it.

"Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said the government is looking for a strategic private investor to develop the project," the government's press office said in a statement.

In December, the Bulgarian government said that Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), China's biggest lender by assets, was ready to finance the Belene nuclear power project. China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) has also expressed an interest in investing in the project.

During their phone call, Borisov and Putin also underlined their mutual interest in the construction of the natural gas hub on Bulgarian territory, the government's press office said.

Plans for a hub at the Black Sea port of Varna, which would store and transport gas from Russia and the Caspian Sea to southeastern and central Europe, follow the cancellation of Russian gas giant Gazprom's South Stream gas pipeline project, which would have shipped Russian gas under the Black Sea via Bulgaria to central Europe. ($1 = 0.9196 euros) (Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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