Bulgarian Court Overrules Kozloduy Reactor Closure

SOFIA, Bulgaria, January 10, 2003 (ENS) - Bulgaria's highest court has overruled a government decision to close two units of the controversial Soviet designed Kozloduy nuclear plant by 2006. Though the full ruling has yet to be published, it appears to be based on a technicality and could be reversed within a fortnight.

The Supreme Administrative Court Thursday upheld a legal challenge to the closure date made by the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, the anti-European Union ex-Communist Party, which has strong links with the nuclear industry.

The party claimed that a government decision last October to ratify the 2006 closure of units 3 and 4 of Kozloduy contradicted an earlier parliamentary vote linking the closure date to Bulgaria's accession to the European Union. Accession was delayed until 2007 by EU heads of government at last month's Copenhagen summit.

Kozloduy

Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant (Photo credit unknown)
The Bulgarian government said today it would make an appeal against the decision, which will be heard by a larger panel of different judges from the same court. The court decision is not final and the Council of Ministers will appeal it, said government spokesman Dimiter Tsonev.

Though the outcome is unclear, Bulgarian observers told reporters today that the original closure date is unlikely to be put back, as a separate parliamentary approval of this deadline was passed almost unanimously in a vote in October 2002.

Kozloduy is an enormous power station covering nearly two kilometers (1.24 miles) along the flat meadows that border the Danube River, the Bulgarian border with Romania. Its 25 year old design includes no protective shell to stop a radiation leak from going directly into the environment. For this reason the United States Department of Energy calls Kozloduy one of the world's most dangerous nuclear installations.

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission in 1990 noted that several serious incidents had occurred, one of which resulted in the radioactive contamination of groundwater on the site.

The mission also found that 217 workers had received excessive exposure to radiation over the plant's operating life. More recently, at least five areas of radioactive contamination have been found in the plant.

A June 1991 IAEA mission found Kozloduy's four VVER-440 units in such poor physical condition, and safety deficiencies so serious, that it recommended they be shut down until improvements were made.

Following the mission, the Bulgarian Committee on the Peaceful Use of Atomic Energy announced that Unit 4 had been shut down for safety improvements and that Unit 3, which was being refueled, would remain shut until improvements were made. Unit 4 resumed operation in August 1991 and Unit 3 in November.

Bulgaria initially agreed in 1999 to close four of Kozoduy six units by 2006, claiming compensation payments under the EU's Euratom treaty in return.

Units 1 and 2 have already been deactivated, while units 5 and 6 have been upgraded to higher safety standards and will continue to generate electricity.

Nuclear power supplies nearly 46 percent of the electricity produced by Bulgaria's utility, the National Electric Company.

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