According to Simeon Djankov, Bulgaria's Finance Minister, there is an 80% chance that the 4 billion euro project, on the banks of the Danube River in northwest Bulgaria, will be put on ice unless private investors raise enough cash for the majority stake.
The newly elected Bulgarian government has admitted that it cannot afford to take out the loans necessary to secure its 51% stake in the 2,000-megawatt (MW) power plant.
Germany's RWE AG was chosen by the previous government as the partner to control the other 49%, but it too has been looking to sell half its stake in the project to other investors.
"There is an 80% chance that the Belene project will be stopped," said Djankov, speaking to Bloomberg reporters. "The state has no funds to spare for its construction, and it has been difficult to raise private funds because of the global crisis."
Djankov also questioned the viability of the Belene plant in an interview on local TV.
"I do not see the economic feasibility of this project," he said. "Even if we find private investors, Belene will not be profitable."
The cancellation of the project is a massive blow to Bulgaria's aim to secure its future energy generation, remain a leading energy exporter in the Balkans, and reduce its carbon dioxide emissions targets in line with European Union directives.
Some experts have said that building the Belene plant could cost more than 6 billion euros, which is 2 billion more than originally quoted. The project also has been marred by high-profile protests from environmental groups like Greenpeace because the site is in an earthquake zone.
The project is to be 51% owned by the National Electricity Company, and Russian firm Atomstroyexport secured the contract to build the new plant, which will comprise two 1,000-MW VVER-1000/V-446B reactors. Ground was broken on the project last September, and it is estimated that more than 430 million euros already have been spent preparing the site for full-scale construction. So far, neither RWE nor Atomstroyexport have been prepared to comment on the new government's decision to halt the project.
Bulgaria has only one operational nuclear plant at Kozloduy, about 100 kilometers west of Belene. The 910-MW Units 5 and 6 are the only operational units left at the plant and are due to be shut down later this year, although the government is hoping to extend their lives. Units 1 and 2, once ranked among the 10 most dangerous reactors in the world, went offline in 2003. The 400-MW Units 3 and 4 were closed in 2006, as part of Bulgaria's entry conditions into the E.U.