Published by Wikileaks & Bivol.bg
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 SOFIA 000716    SIPDIS    SIPDIS    E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/18/2026  TAGS: ENRG, TRGY, EUN, PGOV, SENV, IAEA, BU  SUBJECT: NUCLEAR POWER INCIDENT HIGHLIGHTS BULGARIA'S  PRE-ACCESSION JITTERS    Classified By: A/DCM Brad Freden for reason 1.4 (b) & (c).     1.(C) Summary: A recent incident at the Kozloduy nuclear  power plant has demonstrated the reluctance of Bulgarian  authorities to be fully transparent about safety problems  concerning their aging nuclear reactor.  Authorities on March  1 discovered that a number of control rods used to shut down  the reactor in an emergency situation were inoperable during  a reduction of power at the reactor. Even though the IAEA  characterized the incident as a relatively minor one, the  Bulgarian government remained tight-lipped about what exactly  had happened at the plant. It was only after a German  newspaper article speculated that Bulgaria had had a  near-Chernobyl accident that Bulgarian officials were  compelled to explain what had occurred. The GOB's behavior  undoubtedly reflects its anxiety over EU accession and angst  over having to shut down Kozloduy Units 1 through 4 as part  of its membership bid. It also underscores the work still to  be done on creating a culture of greater official  transparency. End Summary.    ------------------------------------  WHAT HAPPENED AT KOZLODUY ON MARCH 1  ------------------------------------    2.(C) On March 1 a short circuit caused one of the cooling  pumps at Kozloduy's Unit 5 reactor to fail. As part of the  plant's emergency protection system, power in the reactor was  immediately decreased to 67 percent with the aid of the  system's control rods. Soon after the reactor was powered  down, the plant's managers discovered that a number of the  control rods had failed to drop into the proper position to  slow or stop the nuclear reaction.  Further investigation  revealed that 22 of the 61 rods were failing to engage. The  plant managers eventually decided to completely shut down the  reactor to further analyze the problem.  They later learned  that the failure of the control rods was due to "sticking"  between the rods and their drive mechanism. However, once the  rods were physically moved or activated, they appeared to  function fine.  To prevent further sticking until a permanent  solution could be found, the plant instituted a short-term  corrective measure of moving the rods every day for the first  week after the event and then once a week until the end of  the current fuel cycle in June.  Authorities now are working  with the reactor's Russian designer, Gidropress, and the  Institute of Metal Science at the Bulgarian Academy of  Science to determine the precise cause of the sticking and  develop a long-term solution to the problem.    3. (C) Sergey Tzotchev, the chairman of Bulgaria's Nuclear  Regulatory Agency (NRA), told us that Bulgarian authorities  had explained the incident to the IAEA at the biannual  meeting of INES (International Nuclear Event Scale) national  officers in Vienna May 2-5.  The IAEA agreed with the plant's  initial decision to categorize the event as a Level 1 event  (Level 7 being the most dangerous). The NRA later recommended  the event be characterized as Level 2 (i.e., an "incident"  rather than an "anomaly"), according to the INES scale,  because the incident revealed that more than one element had  failed to react and there had been faults in related  procedures. The IAEA concurred with this and agreed with  Bulgarian officials that the population was never in any  danger.    4. (C) Tzotchev and his staff reassured us that if there had  been an emergency and the reactor needed to be shut down  immediately, the 39 remaining rods would have been sufficient  to perform this action.  However, whether they could have  engaged these 39 rods as quickly as necessary (in a second or  two) is not clear.  If the incident--and the problems of the  control rods sticking--had occurred a few months later, it is  quite possible that more rods would have failed and the  reactor would not have been able to be shut down quickly in  an emergency.  This concern was expressed to us by XXXXXXXXXXXX.  According to him, the event at Kozloduy  was the first time a nuclear reactor had experienced this  type of problem. He said the event represents a clear decline  in the margin of safety at the plant.  He also said that the  decision by the plant's managers to leave the reactor  functioning for six hours after discovering the problem was a  clear violation of safety guidelines.    ---------------------------------------------  GOVERNMENT EVADES FULL DISCLOSURE OF INCIDENT  ---------------------------------------------    5. (C) More troubling, however, is how the Bulgarian  authorities handled the incident by failing to come clean    SOFIA 00000716  002 OF 002      publicly.  From the outset, Bulgarian officials stayed quiet  about anything out of the ordinary occurring at the plant.  Initial press reports on March 2 or 3 indicated the reactor  had to be shut down because of electrical problems that had  caused one of the cooling pumps to automatically be switched  off.  The authorities never acknowledged a problem with the  control rods or provided specific details or explanations of  what had happened.  The NRA told us the agency had published  a short press release on its website summarizing the incident  two weeks after it occurred.  The media, however, was never  informed about the press release, which went unnoticed.  The  issue--apparently a routine shutdown--disappeared completely  from the local press until the German newspaper Der Spiel  published an article in late April quoting the former head of  the NRA, Georgi Kaschiev, who alleged a serious accident at  Kozloduy had occurred and the government was intentionally  trying to cover it up.  We heard about the incident and the  problems with the rods a week before the Der Spiel article  from an Embassy contact involved in the energy field.  He  alleged that the manager of the plant had been told to keep  the incident quiet or risk being "knocked off."    6. (C) Even after the article prompted the Bulgarian press to  probe the authorities for more information, the GOB remained  defensive.  Minister for Economy and Energy, Rumen Ovcharov,  told the press on April 25 that "nothing out of the ordinary"  had happened, and speculation surrounding the incident was  the work of people who have done "everything they could to  discredit Bulgaria's energy sector and the country as a  whole."  Ovcharov refused to respond to Kaschiev's specific  allegations, saying Bulgarian's nuclear power sector should  not be held hostage to "personal conflicts."  It was clear,  however, that other politicians were not pleased about being  caught flat-footed.  When asked by journalists about the  incident at Kozloduy, the Speaker of Parliament, Georgi  Pirinski, responded that he had only learned about the event  from the media. Pirinski added that he believed the  government had reacted appropriately, but certain questions  needed to be answered, like why the public was not informed  of the incident in a timely manner.    --------------------------------------------- --------------  EU NERVOUSNESS A KEY FACTOR IN LACK OF NUCLEAR TRANSPARENCY  --------------------------------------------- --------------    7.  (C) Bulgaria's last-minute jitteriness over its EU  accession bid seems clearly to be behind authorities'  reluctance to be fully open about safety concerns related to  Kozloduy. Ovcharov himself admitted that this was "the worst  possible time" to be spreading "rumors" about faults in the  plant.  Many government officials, as well as the public, are  still smarting over Bulgaria's agreement to close down  Kozloduy Units 1 through 4 as a condition for its EU  membership. Officials still claim that most nuclear experts  would agree that Kozloduy 3 and 4 are now safe following  recent upgrades, and that the EU is being overly cautious at  Bulgaria's expense. Ovcharov commented in March that Bulgaria  is the only country that "will have to pay a high price for  EU membership before its accession" due to the reactors'  closure.  Recent reports that energy prices may climb as a  result of the loss of 3 and 4 have renewed calls by some  critics to hold a national referendum on the units' closure.  Any indication that Unit 5, which is to remain operational,  is unsafe would seriously undermine the assertion of many  officials that the forced closure of Units 3 and 4 is unjust,  and could begin sowing doubts in Brussels about the safety of  Units 5 and 6.  Moreover, the Bulgarian government, already  concerned about a possible delay in its accession bid,  probably fears giving Brussels one more reason to put off its  EU membership. 

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