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© Greenpeace / Rastislav Flesh Prochazka

After staunch opposition from the likes of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Bankwatch, Urgewald and BeleNE!, it looks like the long and ignominious history of Bulgaria’s Belene nuclear power plant might be finally drawing to a close. Citing ‘funding issues’, German utility RWE has walked away from its 49 per cent in the disaster-prone project. Those funding ‘issues’? That there isn’t any funding - it’s a bit like saying there are ‘food issues’ when you’re hungry.

If OL3 in Olkiluoto, Finland is supposed to be the nuclear industry’s poster child then Belene is the nasty and ugly younger brother nobody wants to talk about. Belene was a naughty little boy from the outset

The construction has been stop-start since the go ahead was given in way back in 1981. Belene was abandoned once before in 1990 due to – wouldn’t you know it? - ‘funding issues’. The project was restarted in 2002 and it’s been downhill all the way since then. Like all nuclear reactors the costs quickly spiralled out of control and now stand at seven billion euros.

The financing of Belene has been suspicious to say the least. ‘For the past 18 months, we’ve been pointing out to RWE that Belene is a high-risk

project in terms of safety, economics, environment and corruption,’ says Heffa

Schücking from the German environment NGO Urgewald. The Bulgarian government found itself faced with accusations that it had given millions of euros in illegal state aid to the Belene project in violation of the EC Treaty.

On top of that the initial environmental impact assessment did not ‘contain adequate information on the seismic conditions, nor does it address beyond design basis accidents’ and its authors were forced, following legal action, to admit it was flawed. The reactor site is just 14 kilometres from where an earthquake killed over 120 people in 1977. The Austrian Institute of Ecology described the AES 92 reactor being built at Belene as ‘The Mystery Reactor’, there being no ‘reliable technical facts’ or ‘operational experience’ for it.

Reliable facts are things that have been scarce when it comes to Belene. The jobs promised by Prime Minister Stanishev were destined for Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese workers because of a lack of nuclear skills in Bulgaria. ‘I am proud of Bulgarian power engineers, who are capable of developing such a complicated design,’ he boasted when the reactor is actually of Russian design. His statements that nuclear could replace Bulgaria’s reliance on oil are revealed as nonsense (unless he has a secret plan for nuclear cars) when you consider the country relies on oil mainly for transport and hardly at all for electricity generation.

So where does Belene go from here now that RWE has woken up to reality? The Bulgarian government has said it will press on with the reactor. But with no credible investors left it’s difficult to see how the poor creature can limp on.