Rumen Radev is energy minister in the Denkov cabinet. Until his appointment in June 2023, he was part of Zagora Holding (Director of Strategy and Planning since 2003 and Economic Director since 2011). He has been Chairman of the Board of Directors of Asarel Investment – Strategic Development and Investments since October 2012, and a member of the Board of Directors of Asarel-Medet since November 2017.
He holds a Master's degree in Physics from the Faculty of Physics, Sofia University, with specialisations at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, the Institute for Transuranic Elements in Karlsruhe, Germany, and the Institute for Nuclear Research and Nuclear Power Engineering in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he was involved in the development of computer models for the structural evolution of nuclear fuel.
He also holds a Masters Degree in Banking from the University of National and World Economy in Sofia. He has extensive experience in corporate finance and investment modelling.
Mr Radev, a few days ago CEZ announced its procedure for selecting a contractor for the new nuclear project in the Czech Republic – clear and transparent, with several large international companies involved. In Bulgaria, on the other hand, there is a feeling of lack of transparency – both the procedure and the builder of the future capacity at the Kozloduy NPP seem to be pre-ordained?
This question should not be addressed to the Ministry of Energy. We have a technological choice predetermined by the National Assembly – the American AP1000 technology. I have seen reports comparing various potential suppliers in technological terms, and I am talking exclusively about the nuclear island. Given the needs of Bulgaria – the desire to have a certain power, in a certain range, flexible, which is what is being sought – I would indeed make that choice.
For many other things, the question is much more fundamental – in fact, how the whole procedure will be implemented from now on. In other words, to have well-negotiated procedures – both with the supplier of the nuclear island, i.e. the technology, and with the main contractor, who is like a partner and a contact in the construction work and the overall engineering design.
Will the new nuclear reactors be an entirely state investment or is Westinghouse interested in investing in this project?
No, we are talking about an entirely state investment, and that is the right thing for our country. We can do it and we can see it through. I have always stressed that if you have a quality project, done properly, without corrupt pressures, you cannot fail to get the best possible financing parameters. Have no doubt about that.
Do you understand that the Belene NPP project looks a bit like déjà vu?
Of course, but actually there is nothing in common. In the case of Belene, let me remind you, there were absurd situations. One of them was ordering equipment with a long production cycle. There is nothing like that here, there is nothing like that, on the contrary, the procedures are clear and transparent enough. With the current choice for Unit 7, for a technology supplier, bear in mind that this is about 20% of the cost that would have been incurred.
Much more important is the whole package of investments that have to be made. In fact, this particular package, which, I must emphasise, still has to be presented to the National Assembly for approval, includes all these steps - the invitation of three contractors as the main ones, of course they have to have access to this technology. These are the strategic partners who know this technology - Fluor, Bechtel Corporation (ed. - American companies), Hyundai (South Korean) – they are the potential partners, each of them should be talked to.
In the decision of the Council of Ministers on Unit 7 of the Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant, of which I am very proud and for which our team has made great efforts, we explicitly state that the works should be awarded on the basis of a fixed term and fixed price.
Is this not rather incredible when we are talking about a nuclear project that will take place after so many years?
Yes, it is unbelievable, given the Bulgarian reality.
The American experience with the Vogtle nuclear power plant shows otherwise...
No, on the contrary. That is exactly what we are reporting. There is a lot of speculation in Bulgaria, by all sorts of people, about the Vogtle NPP as a project that has swelled financially. In fact, the truth is that the project there has escalated over the years to the point where it costs more than two projects. It was started over and over again from scratch and so on. That's the kind of design and planning as activities that we've actually sorted out.
Aren't the timescales and prices you quoted overly optimistic?
No, definitely. I agree that they are ambitious - it is true, but we have to be ambitious. Look, Bulgaria is a rich country with wonderful people and most of them work with honesty and integrity and that's why it's worth all this effort. There is an opportunity, you see what happened in Poland and in a few days we will see in the Czech Republic. These are the parameters around which they revolve - around EUR 6.5 billion per block, which is possible.
What we need to do in addition is to have a commitment not only with the main contractor, but also with the supplier of technological equipment, for example. It is in the interests of the Bulgarian people, it is in the interests of our domestic energy industry, it is in our interests as a team to have operational units throughout the life of the project. It is in our interest to have realistic, tight deadlines for implementation, not endless deadlines and escalating prices.
If I take you back to what you said from the stage a moment ago, that today we have a 45% share of renewables in the electricity sector, with the planned refurbishment of unit 6 of the Kozloduy NPP, and we are going to do two more. Why is that?
Unfortunately, at the moment we have a lot of brown, not to say black, energy production. Low-carbon energy, in which nuclear energy plays a significant role, combined with storage systems and with connectivity within the country and with other countries, not just those that are currently members of the European Union, is the skeleton on which the muscle of renewables can be built. That is the simple logic, that is in fact the concept of our energy strategy.
Bulgaria is one of the countries that wants to form an alliance for small modular reactors and is pushing for European legislation for their development. You had mentioned to the Energy Committee that there is an option to build such reactors on the site of the Belene nuclear power plant. Is this possible?
At the moment, small modular reactors are a very attractive proposition. Bulgaria even has experience in decommissioning small modular reactors, because 440-megawatt units are in this category. Economically, they are still not attractive enough because the possibility of power escalation is questionable. The Belene issue is sufficient; we are not losing the Belene site.
Have you already sold the Russian reactors for Belene to Ukraine?
We are still negotiating.
This article was translated with the support of DeepL.