August 20, 2019 / 10:58 AM / 3 months ago

Russia, China and S.Korea vie for Bulgarian nuclear project

* Seven parties want to be strategic investors in Belene

* North Macedonia interested in minority stake, power deal

* Bulgaria to shortlist preferred bidders in three months

By Tsvetelia Tsolova

SOFIA, Aug 20 (Reuters) - State run energy companies from Russia, China and South Korea are among seven groups interested in becoming strategic investors in Bulgaria's Belene nuclear power project, the Balkan nation's energy minister said on Tuesday.

Neighbouring North Macedonia has also expressed an interest in a minority stake and long-term contracts to buy electricity from the 2,000 megawatt project on the river Danube, estimated to cost 10 billion euros ($11 billion), Temenuzhka Petkova said.

Sofia revived the Belene project last year after the parliament said it should seek investors to make use of the two reactors it paid over 620 million euros to Russia's Rosatom for in compensation for scrapping the original project in 2012.

"There has been a lot of scepticism whether there will be interest at all for the project. With the applications we got this is no more, because these are some of the global leaders in the nuclear energy," Petkova said.

She said Rosatom, China's CNNC and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co (KHNP), a subsidiary of Korea Electric Power Corp, had filed applications.

A consortium including Czech firm Vitkovice Heavy Machinery; two Bulgarian bidders; and a Germany-registered company have also expressed an interest in being a strategic investor.

Meanwhile, France's Framatome, a unit of EDF, and General Electric have filed letters saying they are interested in providing equipment and in arranging financing for the project, Petkova said.

One Bulgarian energy firm is eyeing a minority stake and a long-term electricity purchase contract. Another is looking only for a minority stake and a third company wants a power purchase deal.

Bulgaria will shortlist candidates in three months and ask them to file binding bids. It will not hire a consultant to advise it on the process, which it hopes to wrap up in May 2020. The project is hoped to be completed around ten years later.

The preferred bidders will be asked to consider the declared interests for minority stakes and power purchase contracts.

Bulgaria cancelled Belene seven years ago after failing to find investors and under pressure from the United States and the European Union to limit its energy dependence on Russia, which had been under contract to build the plant.

Critics of the project, first launched in 1980s, say it has been a vehicle for corruption for decades and that the investment does not justify the benefits.

Sofia plans to keep a blocking stake in the venture and be involved in the site, the nuclear reactors and the acquired licences. But it will not extend state or corporate guarantees or offer to buy electricity from the plant under long-term contracts with preferential rates.

$1 = 0.9030 euros Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing and Mark Potter

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