Energy Generation

Bulgaria Table of Contents

In 1988 Bulgaria produced approximately 43 billion kilowatt hours of electricity (in contrast to 384 billion for France and 83.5 billion for Yugoslavia). At that point, planners expected power consumption to increase by about 3.5 percent per year through the year 2000. The 1988 Program for Energy Development through 1995 and in Perspective until 2005 set general long-term goals for the Bulgarian power industry, including more effective integration of machine building and construction industries into power projects, improved balance between supply and demand of energy, and more effective use of low-quality coal and local hydroelectric plants. In 1988 Bulgaria and the Soviet Union signed a bilateral agreement for scientific and technical cooperation in thermoelectric, hydroelectric, and nuclear power generation. That year 59 percent of Bulgaria's electricity came from thermoelectric plants (primarily coal-powered); 35 percent came from nuclear reactors, the remainder from hydroelectric stations. Total generating capacity in 1988 was 11,300 megawatts (in contrast to 103,400 for France, 20,000 for Yugoslavia).

Conventional Power Generation

Besides the pollution caused by burning domestic coal, about 1,500 megawatts of Bulgaria's thermoelectric generation capacity was idle in the late 1980s because of inefficient fuel delivery or equipment breakdown. About half the capacity of local heat and power plants, relied upon to supplement major electrical plants and provide heat for industries and homes, was unavailable for the same reasons.

In the early 1990s, Bulgarian energy planners faced serious dilemmas. At the Maritsa-iztok-1, Maritsa-iztok-2 and Dimo Dichev thermoelectric plants, located in the Maritsa-iztok coal fields, long-term plans called for gradual replacement of old generating equipment in existing stations. But most such projects were far behind schedule in 1990. The 1990 decision not to complete the Belene Nuclear Power Plant meant increased reliance on Maritsaiztok coal for heat and power generation. In 1990 that spurce provided 70 percent of the country's coal, and its three power stations contributed about 25 percent of total power generation.

The Maritsa-iztok Industrial-Power Complex (with its machine building and repair enterprises one of the largest industrial centers in Bulgaria, employing 22,000 people in 1991) had been in operation since 1951; by 1991 the quality of its coal and the reliability of its infrastructure were steadily declining. But at that crisis point in the national economy, funds were unavailable for capital investment, especially to buy expensive foreign technology. At the same time, industry authorities acknowledged burning high-sulfur coal and strip mining at Maritsa-iztok as a severe environmental problem whose amelioration would cost at least a billion leva, mostly hard currency.

Hydroelectric power generation was concentrated in southwestern Bulgaria, but few Bulgarian rivers offered large-scale hydroelectric potential. The major hydroelectric project in the Ninth Five-Year Plan (1986-90) was completion of the Chaira station, which would add 864 megawatts of generating capacity. Development of local hydroelectric stations on small streams was a planning priority for the 1990s.

Nuclear Power

Nuclear power provided Bulgaria a way of easing its dependence on imported fuels, although the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia provided the expertise and equipment on which Bulgaria built its nuclear power industry. Lacking hard currency to buy enough oil, and reaching the toleration limit for pollution by coal-burning plants, Bulgaria increasingly made nuclear power the center of its energy policy in the 1980s. In 1974 the first nuclear power plant was opened at Kozloduy north of Sofia on the Danube River. After completing the original four-reactor complex in 1982, Kozloduy added a fifth unit in late 1987. This was the first 1,000-megawatt reactor in Eastern Europe outside the Soviet Union. A sixth unit was installed in 1989. At that point, Bulgaria ranked third in the world in per capita nuclear power generation, and the extent of its reliance on a sole nuclear power plant was unsurpassed in the world.

The Bulgarian nuclear power industry was beset with major problems from the beginning. The Kozloduy station had a history of technical difficulties and accidents, many of which were related to the low quality or poor design of Soviet and Czechoslovak equipment. The fifth reactor, a constant source of trouble, was out of commission for several months in 1991 because of extensive turbine damage. This setback put the entire country on a brownout schedule that shut off electricity two out of every four hours.

The Chernobyl' disaster in 1986 made nuclear safety a sensitive political issue in Bulgaria, and by the late 1980s public opinion, now a much more significant factor for policy makers, had turned strongly against the nuclear industry. A second nuclear power complex was started at Belene, to add six 1,000-megawatt reactors by the end of the Tenth Five-Year Plan. But construction was halted in 1989 by public opposition and disclosure that both Kozloduy and Belene were located in earthquake-prone regions. Long-term plans for nuclear heat generation also were shelved at that time. In 1991 the government's Commission on Nuclear Power Supply reported that the supply system was poorly organized and managed, and that managers relied on expensive foreign technical help instead of available domestic engineers. The commission also reported that, once Soviet specialists left, a shortage of qualified personnel delayed activation of the sixth reactor at Kozloduy (considered a top priority once Belene was rejected), and that most monitoring instruments in the first four Kozloduy reactors were out of operation.

In mid-1991 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) declared the Kozloduy reactors unsafe. Two reactors were shut down. Meanwhile, the planned activation of the two newest reactors at Kozloduy raised the problem of nuclear waste disposal in 1991, because the Soviet Union began charging hard currency to reprocess waste from East European reactors, formerly one of its functions under Comecon. In 1991 Bulgaria requested European Economic Community (EEC) aid to build its first permanent domestic repository for nuclear waste.

The Bulgarian power transmission network was supplemented in 1988 when a high-capacity transmission line from the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Station in the Soviet Union reached the northeastern port city of Varna. But like Soviet fuels, imported Soviet electricity required hard currency in 1991, mitigating the advantages of the old CEMA agreement.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress