Bulgaria close to picking winner for nuclear plant

Friday, October 3, 2008

SOFIA, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Bulgaria is close to choosing a winner between Belgian energy firm Electrabel and Germany's RWE AG to make a strategic investment in a planned 4 billion euro ($5.6 billion) nuclear plant, Bulgarian utility NEK said on Thursday.

In August, state-owned NEK asked RWE and Electrabel, owned by France's GDF Suez, to improve their offers for a 49 percent stake in the plant it is building to restore Bulgaria's position as a leading power exporter in southeastern Europe.

"The bidders have filed all that was needed. Talks are underway and close to conclusion," said a spokeswoman for NEK, which will keep a majority stake in the Belene plant.

Economy and Energy Minister Petar Dimitrov has said he hoped a winner will be picked by the end of September, but analysts said difficult talks on costs and management were likely to postpone the decision.

Sources close to the process have said RWE was favoured for the stake and that the German utility was likely to split it with Electrabel to hedge the risk on the investment, which may exceed 6 billion euros due to rising building and financial costs.

Bulgaria has contracted Russia's Atomstroyexport, along with France's Areva and Germany's Siemens AG, to build the 2,000 megawatt plant at the Danube river town of Belene. The plant is expected to come online in 2013-14.

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