Bulgaria’s Parliament sets up ad hoc committee to investigate Belene nuclear power station project

Bulgaria’s Parliament sets up ad hoc committee to investigate Belene nuclear power station project

Bulgaria’s Parliament has voted to set up ad hoc committee, headed by nationalist minority coalition Patriotic Front co-leader Valeri Simeonov, to investigate all “data, facts and circumstances” regarding decision-making and actions about the Belene nuclear power station project between 2006 and the end of September 2016.

The Belene project, first proposed at the time of Bulgaria’s communist regime more than three decades ago, was called off at the time of the first Boiko Borissov government in 2013. One of the main reasons for the decision was a lack of clarity over the financial parameters of the project.

Belene returned to the headlines on a large scale in June 2016 when the Geneva-based arbitration court ordered Bulgaria to pay 553 million euro to Atomstroyexport, Russia’s nuclear power equipment monopoly, for equipment that the company had produced for Belene.

The setting up of the ad hoc committee was proposed by Borissov’s GERB party, its centre-right coalition partner the Reformist Bloc, and the Patriotic Front. It got qualified support from socialist splinter party ABC and was opposed by the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.

A proposal by ABC’s Kiril Tsotchev that the committee be composed on the basis of all parliamentary groups having an equal number of seats was rejected. Instead, the committee, which will have a three-month lifespan, will have 20 members – seven from GERB, three each from the BSP and MRF, two each from the Reformist Bloc and Patriotic Front, and one each from minority groups BDC, Ataka and ABC.

The National Assembly also rejected a proposal by the MRF’s Ramadan Atalay to entrust the investigation to the standing committee on energy and to take into account the conclusions of a committee, set up in a previous parliament in March 2012, that did not complete its work because of the early shutdown of that parliament in 2013.

BSP leader Kornelia Ninova trailed a red herring by proposing instead the establishment of a committee of inquiry to investigate the alleged fuel cartel and the informal economy in that sector, which she said was a topical issue affecting all Bulgarian consumers.

Martin Dimitrov of the Reformist Bloc slammed the Belene project as one that had generated only costs. Belene had been invented only to generate spending, and the National Assembly should put an end to it for once and for all, he said.

(A few years ago, Bulgaria held a national referendum on the future of nuclear power, though the referendum effectively was about Belene. Turnout was too low to be decisive and the National Assembly upheld the decision not to proceed with the project.)

Bulgaria could not have to fork out 1.270 billion euro and not investigate who was responsible, Dimitrov said.

Ninova accused those backing the formation of the committee of seeking only to make political capital. The prosecution and courts had ruled on the issue, she said.

The Reformist Bloc’s Petar Slavov said that the political responsibility for ordering the reactors for Belene lay with the BSP. Dimitrov said that he sensed fear in the BSP about what the committee would establish.

GERB’s Metodi Andreev, who is to be one of the deputy chairpersons of the committee, said that the committee should be “absolutely uncompromising” in its report and should come to a conclusion as speedily as possible, “and not in 10 years”.

Takso Ermenkov of the BSP said that his party, when in government, had continued the work done by a previous government, but then came another government in 2009 (a reference to the first Borissov administration) which had supported the project until 2011 but then “inexplicably” terminated it./IBNA