SOFIA, Jan. 27 (Xinhua) -- Bulgarians have postponed construction of a new nuclear power plant for an indefinite future, according to unofficial data released on Sunday evening after a low-turnout referendum held on this issue.
Parallel vote tabulation conducted by Alpha Research agency showed that the voter turnout was 21 percent, and 61 percent of the voters said "yes" to the question on whether the country should build a new nuclear power plant. The official results are expected to be released on Wednesday.
According to Bulgarian legislation, the referendum is invalid because the turnout should be no less than that of the last parliamentary election in the country. For this referendum, the required voter turnout was 60.2 percent, which was achieved in the parliamentary election in 2009.
However, because less than 60.2 percent but more than 20 percent of citizens with voting rights participated in the referendum, and "yes" votes were more than half, the decision has to be discussed and voted in the parliament.
On Wednesday, Kolyo Kolev, director of the Mediana Polling Agency, predicting the result that the ruling GERB party still has a comfortable majority in parliament, so it will halt the construction of the new nuclear power plant, the Belene project.
Nevertheless, the results of this referendum will not finally close the door on the Belene project, it will not be removed from the agenda of the Bulgarian society, and it can be reconsidered with the change of political power, Kolev told Xinhua.
The polling stations across the country opened at 6 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) and almost 6.95 million voters were eligible for the first referendum conducted in the Balkan country after 1989.
Construction of the 2,000-megawatt new nuclear plant at Belene was approved in 2005. The Russian company Atomstroyexport, an engineering branch of the state-owned Rosatom, won the bid to build the plant in 2006. However, the project was frozen after the GERB party came to power in July 2009.
The petition for the referendum was initiated last year by the main opposition, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), after the GERB suspended construction of the country's second nuclear plant.
Earlier on Sunday, BSP leader Sergey Stanishev told reporters after voting the referendum was a test to the government.
Voters shared with Xinhua various opinions on their participation in the referendum, and the future of nuclear energy in Bulgaria.
Penka Staevska, a teacher, told Xinhua that if stops developing nuclear energy, Bulgaria will have to import from abroad.
"Everyone says that if there is a new plant, it will be dangerous for our health, but our neighbors are not too far away, have nuclear power plants on the border with Bulgaria. Therefore I do not worry about whether this plant would be dangerous for us," she said.
Venkov, a retired molecular biologist, said that voting was always politicized, no matter what is topic of voting.
Georgi Antonov, an artist, said he voted NO firmly. First, because Bulgaria shall not give money to the Russians and be totally dependent on them like in supplies of gas, oil and so on. Second, he said he seen a huge "fraudulence" in the history of the project.
"And third, I in general do not see why we should make another nuclear power plant in Bulgaria, given that the world is going in quite another direction as a source for energy industry and so on," he said.
Meanwhile, Tony Kanev, who works in a law court, said Bulgaria must build a new power plant because each year electricity consumption has been increasing by an average of six percent.
"And in any case we should close the thermal power stations, which are much dirtier than nuclear power plants," he said.