Ep 277: Anton Simeonov - Head of Power Projects, Bulgarian Energy Holding EAD
Nuclear Power in Bulgaria (0:00-5:28)
Anton Simeonov reviews his resume in the nuclear industry and provides a brief overview of Bulgaria’s nuclear power history
Q: Tell me about your background and how you got into the nuclear space.
A: Anton Simeonov received his Master’s degree in Economics, starting his career after graduation in financial consulting. He eventually got into the energy business, specifically nuclear. Bulgaria has a very balanced energy system. The nuclear energy in Bulgaria is producing 33-34% of the electricity output, with the remaining output composed of thermal power plants, renewables, and hydropower. The country’s one nuclear plant has two operating VVER pressurized water reactor units, each producing 1,000 megawatts. This plant was originally built in the 1970’s, but the useful life of the units has been prolonged for thirty more years. Anton hadn’t done much research about the nuclear industry, but was interested in getting involved when he got the chance. He worked for the largest energy company in Bulgaria, which owns many different types of power plants and also involved in the gas business. Anton started with the company ten years ago, starting out on a gas project and soon after getting more involved with nuclear projects. He is now the Head of Power Projects, responsible for managing different projects in the company and analyzing new builds from the financial and commercial aspects. Many projects related to nuclear, including prolonging plant lifetime and other smaller scale projects, also fall under his management.
Challenges with New Nuclear Builds (5:28-12:49)
A look at why new nuclear projects have struggled in Bulgaria and the possibilities of bringing in new technologies
Q: Is Bulgaria looking to build new generating assets in the nuclear space?
A: Anton Simeonov is the Head of Power Projects for the largest energy company in Bulgaria. Bulgaria currently has a new nuclear project in the works, but it has been going on for a long time due to financing. Such projects are very capital intensive and it is very hard to do such large scale projects without having a lot of cash. These high risk profile projects are commercially complex and require a lot of investments, making new nuclear builds difficult for any utility. Bulgaria has nuclear experts, but does not have enough specialists in the country for the whole scope of a new project, including the capacity to complete construction. Smaller projects are not pursued mainly due to economics. They are not much cheaper than large reactors and provide a much smaller output. Anton hopes the nuclear industry will move forward with other energy industries to provide faster development. Renewables and thermal power plants are moving forward much more quickly than nuclear. Bulgaria’s energy companies meet regularly with vendors and technology providers. The small modular reactor (SMR) is not being viewed as an option because of economics and the current energy mix is very balanced. A few years ago, Anton explored the options for first-of-a-kind technology such as AP1000 reactors.
How to Make Nuclear Power Competitive (12:49-18:47)
A call to action for nuclear industry stakeholders to ensure the long time stability and success of nuclear power
Q: What are the targets that new nuclear has to hit in order to be competitive with other power generating sources?
A: Anton Simeonov has worked to bring new nuclear builds to Bulgaria, but development has been difficult mainly due to economics. All the stakeholders involved in the industry must put forth effort to lower the cost and simplify the design to make it easier for the regulators and authorities. Nuclear also needs more support from the authorities, similar to support and incentives given to other energy sources, such as renewables. When one source is supported over another, energy is not competitive at all. The European Union (EU) allows each country to choose their own technology. Germany decided to stop using nuclear power, but has invested in a lot of renewable energy sources. The high amount of renewables in Germany makes the cost of power go down in the EU and more challenging for other technologies to get hold. Different incentives are needed, mostly related to integrated strategy. The markets in Europe are very volatile. The situation with the coronavirus and the production of renewables have dropped the price of energy to 25-30 euros per megawatt. From the 70’s up until present day, nuclear development had stopped, and suddenly a lot of countries want to build new nuclear plants. Regulators in many countries are lacking capacity and human resources are insufficient.
Bulgaria’s Economic Climate (18:47-25:27)
Anton shares the strengths and challenges of working in the energy industry in Bulgaria’s current economic climate
Q: What are some other things you can tell me about the Bulgarian economy?
A: The Bulgarian economy is doing pretty well over the last few years with a very good budget deficit. Bulgaria has one of the best economies in the European Union and is growing, even during COVID-19. This growth is mainly coming from the industrial sector, such as the automotive industry. Bulgaria has been an exporter of energy for the last 30 years and wants to keep developing their systems. Nuclear power is an essential part of the country. Anton Simeonov describes nuclear power as the backbone of the country’s energy system. The Bulgarian Science Academy has a scientific institute and Bulgaria has their own nuclear regulator, with varied capacity. The country is doing fine as far as human resources for running the power plants, but plants are doing a lot of work with the universities to keep students interested in nuclear energy. All interested parties in nuclear have to ease the processes and make it easier to realize a project. Different regulators around the world have different requirements. This makes it difficult for technology providers, utilities, and vendors, leading to an increasing cost. Design needs to be simplified to make it easier to license, and more institutionalized support is needed for nuclear to be more competitive. Nuclear will keep its positions, at least, because it is sustainable and brings energy security and, in the long term, nuclear might be profitable.