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Monday, 29 November, 1999, 19:32 GMT
Bulgaria agrees nuclear shut-down
Kozlodoy nuclear plant The two oldest reactors at Kozloduy will be closed by 2003

Bulgaria says it will close four Soviet-built nuclear reactors in return for talks on EU membership in the new year.

The agreement was reached during a one-day visit to the country by the European Union Commissioner responsible for enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, in which he held talks with Prime Minister Ivan Kostov.

"Bulgaria has made enough progress to be invited" Mr Verheugen said.

Mr Verheugen Mr Verheugen says the deal will make Bulgaria's energy sector 'safe and competitive'
Mr Verheugen said the two sides had ironed out an outstanding disagreement about the early closure of four Soviet-built reactors at Kozloduy, about 200 km (125 miles) north of Sofia and supply approximately 45% of the country's electricity.

Reactors unsafe

Bulgaria had requested that "direct and indirect losses be compensated" for shutting down the reactors, which the EU considers unsafe.

Under the accord the two oldest reactors, dating from the mid-1970s, will be closed by 2003. Reactors 3 and 4, which came online in 1979-81, will close by 2006, although no exact date has been set.

In exchange for the closures the EU has agreed to grant Bulgaria 200m euros ($200m) by 2006, and to loan it 250m euros ($250m) to upgrade two remaining units at the plant.

Kostov Premier Kostov will agree the exact closure dates in further talks with the EU
Mr Kostov said Bulgaria's role during the Kosovo crisis had shown the importance of stability in the region, and its integration into mainstream Europe.

"Europe needs Bulgaria to be a full member in order to guarantee peace and stability in this part of Europe," he said

"Second wave" countries

The European Commission recommended in October that the EU begin accession negotations with Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Malta.

However it said that talks with Bulgaria should not proceed until an acceptable date for closing the four aging nuclear plants at Kozloduy had been set.

But after signing a memorandum of understanding on Monday Mr Verheugen said "there is no need to make the invitation conditional."

A final decision on all six countries' applications is due to be taken at the EU Helsinki summit on 10-11 December.
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See also:
14 Oct 99 |  Europe
EU set to spread east
22 Nov 99 |  Europe
Clinton offers hope to Bulgaria
27 Aug 99 |  Europe
Communist bastion finally crumbles

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