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Bulgaria backs EU talks on nuclear units restart

  Bulgaria’s parliament gave the government a mandate on Friday to start talks with the EU Commission on the possible restart of two Soviet-era nuclear reactors.

Deputies voted in favor of seeking to restart the reactors to compensate for fuel shortages caused by the loss of Russian gas supplies this month, during Moscow’s row with Ukraine over gas prices.

Earlier this week, Economy and Energy Minister Petar Dimitrov said the gas crisis had been a catastrophe for the economy, coming on top of a global slowdown, and said the Balkan country deserved support from Brussels.

Bulgaria shut the two 440 megawatt units at its sole Kozloduy nuclear power plant in late 2006 to win EU entry, although they had a license to operate until 2011 and 2013 respectively. The closure was opposed by a majority of the 7.6 million population for whom Kozloduy was a source of national pride.

Sofia has repeatedly tried to reopen the reactors, saying their closure had led to power cuts in the Balkans as Bulgaria had been forced to trim its electricity exports as a result. However, the EU Commission said there was no clear evidence that the units could meet EU’s safety standards.

Bulgaria says that under an article in its entry treaty, it is entitled to restart the reactors if the economic situation worsens substantially. The disruption over a gas price dispute between Moscow and Kiev, which was resolved earlier this week, cut all Russian supplies via Ukraine to Europe for two weeks and caused rationing in Bulgaria.

Dozens of companies had to shut down production and hundreds of thousands were also left without heating in the depths of winter, provoking widespread public anger and street protests in the EU poorest nation. (Reuters)