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Bulgaria: Ditch Diggers Knock Out Cooling System At Nuclear Plant

  • Ron Synovitz

Sofia, 18 September 1996 (RFE/RL) - The chief of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant in northwestern Bulgaria says negligent workers caused what he called a "temporary" shutdown at one of the plant's six units today.

Plant director Kiril Nikolov said that an excavator who was digging a ditch in the plant's yard tore up power cables for a turbine cooling system, forcing technicians to shut down the 440 megawatt Unit Two.

The cables controlled the circulation pumps for the cooling system, said a spokesman for Bulgaria's National Electric Company. Unit Two was operating at 55 percent of its capacity when the accident occurred, he said.

Nikolov said the failure was outside of the reactor's nuclear zone and did not pose any nuclear threat. He said the reactor would be restarted later today.

Nikolov added that the workers who caused the shutdown were not plant employees, but worked for a company hired to do construction work.

The International Atomic Energy Organization in Vienna has long described Kozloduy's oldest four units as technically outdated and a safety risk for Europe. Those units, including number two, were brought on line between 1974 and 1982.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Zhan Videnov has repeatedly dismissed calls from Western European countries to close the oldest two units at Kozloduy out of concern for safety. The plant currently provides about 40 percent of Bulgaria's electrical energy.

Videnov has said that he would discuss proposals from the European Union to supply electricity to the country to make up for a shortfall if some units are shut down. But technical questions have not been resolved on how the electricity would be delivered.

Some analysts say the closure of Kozloduy could result in a political crisis the government. Since 1989, Bulgarians have suffered considerable water and electricity rationing. Recently, the country also has suffered from a severe grain shortage.