Banks pull the plug on nuclear plants

Financial backers have withdrawn potential support for the development of a pair Bulgarian nuclear power stations, citing environmental - and economic - shortfalls in the plans.

UniCredit Group, which runs a number of highstreet bank chains across the continent, and economic powerhouse Deutsche Bank had both expressed interest in investing in the development of two new stations near the town of Belene.

The decision of the banks followed lobbying from Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and CEE Bankwatch.

Each of the banks was backing a different consortium bidding for the contract to build the stations, both of which have now been left in financial limbo by the withdrawal of support.

Environmental pressure groups are now trying to persuade the Government to pull the plug on the proposed project.

Sofia-based Petko Kovachev of CEE Bankwatch Network commented: “The Belene nuclear power project is a major financial and environmental risk,” said Petko Kovachev of CEE Bankwatch.

“Everybody seems to be aware of this except for the Bulgarian government.”

Friends of the Earth told reporters that during a joint meeting with UniCredit subsidiary Bank Austria and Greenpeace, it had seemed that the bank was aware that customers did not want their money backing ‘risky nuclear investments’.

“It is clear that these banks are aware of the risks attached to financing nuclear power,” said FoE Europe’s Patricia Lorenz.

“Bank Austria was one of the driving forces to quit UniCredit’s engagement in the Belene projekt as they saw big risks.”

The timing of the banks’ withdrawal looks set to play havoc with the schedule, as the Bulgarian Economy and Energy Minister Rumen Ovcharov was due to announce who had been awarded the contract on Tuesday.

Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace’s nuclear energy expert for Central Europe, said: “I am curious whether that will happen now as we can see the financial bottom of the project falling away.

“It is time that Bulgaria shelves this ill-conceived nuclear dream and looks to the future. Bulgaria has immense capacity to cut down its energy wastage, which in a matter of years can free up more capacity than Belene would ever generate.

“On top of that it has huge untapped resources in renewable energy like wind, biomass, hydro and solar.”

Sam Bond

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