After the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian War, it has become clear that many states, especially the European Union (EU) countries, are dependent on Russia for energy, first and foremost for fossil fuels. Bulgaria is among these countries. However, to act together with the EU, the Sofia administration imposed sanctions on Russia to support Ukraine, and as a result, Moscow cut off the flow of natural gas to Bulgaria. Consequently, tensions arose between Bulgaria and Russia and Sofia started to take various steps to eliminate its energy dependence on Russia.
Thanks to its geographical location, Bulgaria’s pipeline connections with neighbouring countries have increased its alternative options in terms of fossil fuels. These include the Southern Gas Corridor, namely the Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which extends to Europe, and the newly opened Greece-Bulgaria Interconnector Project with Greece.
Another issue that has also emerged is that Bulgaria’s energy dependence on Russia is not limited to fossil fuels. In addition to fossil fuels such as natural gas and oil, Bulgaria also imported nuclear fuel from Russia. Bulgaria’s state-owned nuclear reactors in Kozloduy and Sofia account for one-third of the country’s electricity demand, which is also sourced from Russia.
As can be seen, in the current conjuncture of Europe’s electricity shortage, the amount of electricity Sofia generates from nuclear fuel in these power plants, especially the Kozloduy Power Plant, is considerable. Therefore, dependence on Russia in this field is a dangerous situation for Bulgaria. This is because there is a possibility that Moscow could block the flow of nuclear power, just as it has previously blocked the flow of natural gas to Bulgaria.
Thus, the party of former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, the Party of Citizens for European Development (GERB), put forward a proposal to accelerate the procedure for obtaining nuclear fuel from a non-Russian source. The proposal was welcomed in the Parliament and the Bulgarian National Assembly voted on November 11, 2022, by 156 votes to 47, calling on the Council of Ministers to grant the license and sign the contract for the supply of non-Russian nuclear fuel by 2024.
The parliament’s decision was opposed by pro-Russian parties who believed that the proposal was presented for the benefit of the US nuclear energy company Westinghouse Electric Company. These are the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the anti-European party Vazrazhdane (Revival).
The decision was implemented in the last days of 2022 and Bulgaria signed agreements with second parties to diversify its nuclear fuel channels. The first agreement on alternatives to Bulgaria’s nuclear fuel was signed on December 22, 2022, with the Swedish subsidiary of Westinghouse to supply nuclear fuel to the Russian-built 1,000 megawatt “Unit 6.” Bulgaria’s Energy Minister Rosen Hristov said that in the current situation, nuclear fuel deliveries from Russia are uncertain and therefore the new 10-year contract with Westinghouse helps to secure the plant’s operation.
Moreover, Hristov said that the new fuel will be used from the summer of 2024, while the existing fuel tanks can be utilized until then. The reason for the use of fuel from that date onwards is that Kozloduy Power Plant had a contract with the Russian company TVEL that continued until that date. In addition, since the fuel to be supplied to Bulgaria by the Westinghouse Company is different, the Bulgarian Council of Ministers has to approve the procedure for the supply from this company.
Immediately following the agreement with Westinghouse, on December 30, 2022, Bulgaria signed an agreement with Framatome, a subsidiary of French energy giant Électricité de France S.A. (EDF), to supply nuclear fuel for Kozloduy’s “Unit 5” reactor. Framatome is not an unknown organization in Bulgaria. The cooperation between Framatome and Kozloduy goes back more than 20 years. In April 2022, Framatome established a center in Bulgaria to strengthen the cooperation between the two companies. Therefore, it can be said that Sofia’s efforts to diversify its nuclear fuel started about 20 years ago.
There are several reasons why Bulgaria put so much importance on nuclear fuel. The first one is that nuclear fuel provides a large share of electricity generation and even makes Bulgaria a supplier of electricity to other Balkan countries. In 2022, for example, Sofia became the largest electricity exporter in the Balkans and the third net exporter in the EU. Secondly, Bulgaria is facing economic difficulties because of high emigration due to employment problems. Therefore, nuclear energy is an important source of income. Thirdly, the fact that the Kozloduy power plant is a state-owned enterprise ensures that the profits are transferred directly to the state. In short, it is possible to say that electricity supplied by nuclear fuel is an important economic resource for Bulgaria.
As a result, Bulgaria-Russia relations deteriorated after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine and Bulgaria, as an EU member, faced the threat of a gas cut-off due to its participation in the sanctions against Russia. Although Bulgaria has struggled to build a politically and economically integrated structure in recent years, when it comes to energy and Russia, Bulgaria’s response has been clear. Sofia has taken various steps to reduce its dependence on Moscow for all energy sources. Among these steps is nuclear fuel, which provides a significant portion of the country’s electricity. In this context, relations with the French company Framatome have been strengthened since April 2022, and in December 2022, agreements were signed with the Swedish subsidiary of the US company Westinghouse and Framatome. Thus, Sofia has secured nuclear fuel supplies beyond 2024, when the contract with the Russian nuclear fuel company TVEL expires. This move is very important for Bulgaria, the Balkan region, and the EU in terms of energy resources.
 “Nuclear Power in Bulgaria”, World Nuclear Association, https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f/bulgaria.aspx, (Date of Accession: 03.01.2023).
 “Bulgarian Parliament Votes To Switch From Russian Nuclear Fuel”, Eurasia Review, https://www.eurasiareview.com/11112022-bulgarian-parliament-votes-to-switch-from-russian-nuclear-fuel/, (Date of Accession 03.01.2023).
 Krassen Nikolov, “Bulgarian Government Must Urgently Find non-Russian Nuclear Fuel”, Euractiv, https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/news/bulgarian-government-must-urgently-find-non-russian-nuclear-fuel/, (Date of Accession: 03.01.2023).
 “Bulgaria Diversifies Its Nuclear Fuel Supply”, TVP World, https://tvpworld.com/65241975/bulgaria-diversifies-its-nuclear-fuel-supply, (Date of Accession: 03.01.2023).
 “Bulgaria Signs Nuclear Fuel Deal with Westinghouse”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/bulgaria-signs-nuclear-fuel-deal-with-westinghouse-2022-12-22/, (Date of Accession: 03.01.2023).
 “Bulgaria Signs Deal to End Reliance on Russian Nuclear Fuel Deliveries”, The Moscow Times, https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/12/30/bulgaria-signs-deal-to-end-reliance-on-russian-nuclear-fuel-deliveries-a79854, (Date of Accession: 03.01.2023).
 “Framatome Announces Launch of Framatome Bulgaria to Support Long-Term Services Contract”, Framatome, https://www.framatome.com/medias/framatome-announces-launch-of-framatome-bulgaria-to-support-long-term-services-contract/, (Date of Accession: 03.01.2023).
 “Delays in Restart of Bulgarian Nuclear Facility Following Accident”, Euractiv, https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy-environment/news/delays-in-restart-of-bulgarian-nuclear-facility-following-accident/, (Date of Accession: 04.01.2023)