Article by Terry Wynn, UK Socialist Member of the European Parliament, Chairman of the European Forum for the Future of Nuclear Power and Board Member of the European Energy Forum.

As a Member of the European Parliament and by invitation of the Executive Director of the Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant in Bulgaria, I led a multi-party and multi-national group of MEP’s on a fact-finding mission to Bulgaria in March this year. I still find it hard to believe that the European Council is a signatory to an agreement which, as I explain below, is baseless, undemocratic and sure to create hardship in a region which can ill-afford the consequences.

 

In April, the Bulgarian government signed the Treaty of Accession to the EU. But it wasn't wholeheartedly happy to do so because write large within it is a condition to close two more nuclear reactors at Kozloduy. The Bulgarians have already closed two reactors, (units 1 and 2 at Kozloduy) and have agreed to the closure of units 3 and 4 even though they comply fully with Western standards of safety and electricity supply in Bulgaria and in the Balkan region. Bulgaria will be severely affected after closure.   Kozloduy Units 1-4 have the potential to generate 1560MW of nature-friendly energy for domestic and neighbouring consumers. Also Bulgaria has ratified the Kyoto Protocol and is committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions with 8 % compared to the base year of 1998. The early closure of Units 1-4 is jeopardising the Kyoto-targets being met by Bulgaria.

"During the negotiations we were told that if we didn't agree then we couldn't be an accession country and would have to wait until Turkey joined", we were told by one senior Bulgarian MP in the then governing party. For anyone who knows the recent history of Bulgaria’s foreign policy, and the high hopes for a recent EU accession, you can imagine what a real threat that was at the time and, incidentally, remains a threat today.

Everyone we speak to makes the point that there is no scientific, technical nor safety evidence as to why the reactors should close. This is backed up by countless independent expert reports including one from the European Council’s own ‘Atomic Questions Group’ who even concluded that further monitoring was no longer necessary

"I was told by a member of the European Commission that the closure of Kozloduy units 1 to 4 is the political price that Bulgaria has to pay for joining the EU regardless of how safe they are".  And safe they are! Kozloduy is arguably the most inspected plant in the world and according to all the international opinion that has been expressed, these units satisfy all the required safety standards. In 2003 the Bulgarian Nuclear Regulator gave a licence for eight years for unit 3 and for ten years for unit 4, yet the EU insists on their closure by 2006.

It's an arbitrary date; in Lithuania there is an RBMK type reactor (Chernobyl was an RBMK) which has been given permission by the EU to operate until 2009. Units 3 and 4 at Kozloduy are nothing like the RMBK, are perfectly safe yet have to cease operating in 2006. Daft or what?

The Bulgarians have spent in the region of €270 million upgrading them to the highest Western standards. That is in addition to €24 million from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development of which two thirds went on equipment and €8 million to Western consultants. Moreover, the European Commission itself has granted more than €40 million from its Phare programme.

What happens when they do close? The EU will spend up to €500 million to compensate them. But more significantly it will cost Bulgaria € 4 billion in loss of income. Right now Bulgaria exports significant amounts of electricity to all their neighbours at times making up 50 percent of their shortfall, and in 2003, because of droughts, made up 100 percent of the shortfall.

The lights will soon be going out in the Balkans and all because of this unjustified, technically baseless agreement launched by the European Commission, accepted under duress by the Bulgarians and perhaps unwittingly endorsed by the EU Member States in the name of the European Council.

The present broad-coalition government of Bulgaria, which is expecting the Commissionís Comprehensive Monitoring report to be published on October 25, 2005 cannot  say anything different, although the socialist opposition at the time was committed if elected, to consult  all 25 member states to make them see common sense.

Two new reactors are about to be built at Belene in Bulgaria but the first won't come on stream until 2011-2014 at the earliest. What both Bulgaria and the region need, is an agreement to extend the operating lives of units 3 and 4 until the Belene reactor is operational. Iím pleased to say that the European Parliament report on Bulgariaís accession to the EU calls upon the Council to be flexible in its management of the closure agreement. My Finnish colleague, Eija-Riitta Korhola, followed up on that report with a Parliamentary Question to the Council but, 3 months on, has received not even the courtesy of a reply. If only the Council will adopt the flexible approach that the EP proposes, the EU wouldnít have to spend large amounts of tax-payers money, the Bulgarians could continue to export cheap electricity and the lights stay on in the Balkans.

The present and past Bulgarian governments are in a Catch 22 situation. They signed an agreement that gives them EU membership, which they want. But that commits them to closing units 3 and 4, which they don't want to do. Is there a hope that once they are a full member they can persuade the other 26 members to re-negotiate the closure dates? Hardly likely without some strong support.

The current UK presidency of the EU could be a real friend if it could put this issue on the agenda, especially if it is looking to keep the EU budget at 1 percent of GNI, which includes its enlargement to include Bulgaria and Romania.

Of course no-one in the Commission or Council is likely to make a move unless the Bulgarians ask them. That remains difficult for the new Bulgarian Government as it pursues the EU accession of the country as a paramount priority.   

As pro-Europeans we feel that the insistence by the EU on the closure of Units 3 and 4 is one of the daftest decisions it could take.

Normally nuclear reactors are closed for one of three reasons: (1) for safety reasons - which don't apply to Kozloduy; (2) for economic reasons, which donít apply in this case, or (3) for political reasons. This is a political decision which will have significant knock-on effects for the Balkan region in terms of electricity supply. It really should not be supported and paid for by the EU institutions.

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