Bulgaria has given the final go-ahead for construction of a nuclear power plant with a capacity of up to 2,000 megawatts at the Danube river town of Belene, news agency Reuters reported on Thursday, April 7. The Balkan country is building the plant to maintain its position as the leading power exporter in southeast Europe as it shuts down two ageing Soviet-made nuclear reactors before joining the European Union in 2007, said Reuters. 'The decision opens the way to launch a tender for a contractor. This will be done in not more than 30 days,' energy minister Miroslav Sevlievski was quoted by Reuters as telling reporters. The new power station will cost 2.5 bln euro ($3.23 bln), said Reuters. The government said it had decided against using heavy-water Canadian CANDU technology, excluding from the tender a consortium led by Canada's Atomic Energy Canada Ltd., which has expressed interest in the deal, said Reuters. Two contenders remain -- France's Framatome and Russia's Atomstroiexport in one group and another group comprising Czech Skoda Praha, Citibank, Italy's Unicredito and Czech Komercni Banka, said the news agency. The designer-architect of the new plant, UK-based consultancy Parsons has said Bulgaria should either build two new 1,000 megawatt VVR-B466 reactors, or a new one and modernise a 1,000 megawatt VVR-B320 that it bought during a previous attempt to build the plant, which stalled in the 1990s. Parsons has said the two options are priced at 2.68 billion and 2.73 billion euros, respectively. The financial adviser on the project, Deloitte&Touche, said that if either option were chosen, the end price would be up to 3.5 bln euro, said Reuters. Bulgaria has already sunk $1 bln into the project -- located some 250 kilometres northeast of Sofia, for infrastructure and the uninstalled VVR-B320 unit, but it stumbled on financial problems in 1990, said Reuters. Sevlievski said a new company would be set up to own and run the plant, in which the state would probably keep at least 51% while the remainder would go to private investors. The ministry has previously considered the creation of one nuclear power company to operate both the Balkan state's nuclear plant at Kozloduy and the new plant at Belene. But Sevlievski, who took over the ministry in February after a government reshuffle, said he did not favour such a move. 'We will know who will finance and own Belene after we choose a contractor for the plant,' Sevlievski said, adding that the winner would probably not be selected before general elections expected to be held on June 25. Bulgaria has agreed with the EU to shut down two units at its sole nuclear plant at Kozloduy, which produces 40% of the country's power, by the end of 2006. It closed two of Kozloduy's six reactors in 2003, said Reuters.