Bulgaria to hold talks with U.S. companies over new nuclear reactor

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s government gave state-owned energy company Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH) a green light on Wednesday to start talks with U.S. companies on plans to build a new nuclear reactor at its Kozloduy power plant, the energy minister said.

FILE PHOTO: A company logo of Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant is seen at the plant entrance, some 200 km (124 miles) north of Sofia, March 17, 2010. REUTERS/Oleg Popov

Temenuzka Petkova said the Balkan country is looking to build a new reactor to boost energy security and move towards less polluting methods of electricity production in line with the European Union’s goal of climate neutrality by 2050.

On Tuesday Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said the new reactor should be based on U.S. technology.

“The government gave a mandate to BEH to start negotiations with U.S. companies that develop nuclear technologies to study the options for the building of a new reactor,” Petkova said.

She did not name the companies that would be involved in talks but said results will be announced at the end of January.

Bulgaria operates two 1,000 megawatt Soviet-made nuclear reactors at Kozloduy and is seeking investors for its planned 10 billion euro Belene project, expected to run on two 1,000 megawatt Russian nuclear reactors.

Petkova said there is room for both projects because Bulgaria will have to start a gradual phasing out of its coal-fired thermal power plants after 2030.

Local analysts viewed Wednesday’s announcement as an attempt by the government to expand its lobby base in Washington and avoid potential U.S. sanctions against the Bulgarian extension on Russia’s TurkStream gas pipeline.

“We should look at this plan in the light of the need to avoid U.S. sanctions on the TurkStream pipeline on Bulgarian territory at least until it is built,” said political and energy analyst Ilian Vassilev.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned in July that investors in Nord Stream 2 and a branch of the TurkStream pipeline could face sanctions as Washington seeks to curb the Kremlin’s economic leverage over Europe and Turkey.

Bulgaria has dubbed the pipeline on its territory Bulgarian Stream and argued that it is a separate project.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Jan Harvey and David Goodman