Bulgarian Green Leader Threatened With Death

VIENNA, Austria, March 8, 2005 (ENS) - Award-winning Bulgarian anti-nuclear activist Albena Simeonova has received threats on her life due to her public opposition to the construction of a nuclear power plant in Belene, in the northern part of the country, Greenpeace said today. Simeonova, a Greenpeace activist, was honored with the 1996 Goldman Prize for Europe.

Greenpeace, together with Bankwatch and Friends of the Earth Europe, is calling on the Bulgarian government to secure her safety and prevent these threats from happening again.

Simeonova

Albena Simeonova has been opposed to the Belene nuclear power plant since the early 1990s. (Photo courtesy Goldman Prize)
Simeonova, 40, who is portrayed as an obstacle by the nuclear industry, started to receive anonymous calls at the end of 2004.

On February 23, two men showed up at her house door threatening to kill her if she did not stop her resistance against plans to build the nuclear power plant in Belene.

The men also warned her to leave the region of Nikopol, her homeland.

Simeonova is one of the leaders of a Bulgarian movement that stopped plans for the construction of a nuclear power station near Belene in the early 1990s.

Plans for the power station were revived in 2003, and she was one of the first people to ask attention for the problems the project would create. She alerted national and international organizations about the revived plans and since has been one of the motors behind resistance against Belene.

"This is not only a serious threat against my life," said Simeonova, "it represents a threat to all who campaign against nuclear plants trying to protect their lives and the local environment."

"We are shocked to hear that her life is threatened due to her opposition to this nuclear project," says Jan Haverkamp from Greenpeace International. "She is a pioneer for a clean environment in Bulgaria."

"Belene is the real threat, not Albena Simeonova," he said. "This plant is completely unnecessary for Bulgaria and for the region."

Greenpeace argues that Bulgaria does not need the Belene nuclear power plant because the country has one of the largest renewable energy resources in the European Union, with potential for wind energy, as well as geothermal and hydropower.

With its large agricultural sector, Bulgaria could cover a significant part of its energy needs with renewable energy, Greenpeace says. "These clean energy sources are economic, abundant, create thousands of jobs and pose no threat to human life and the environment," the organization said in a statement.

Greenpeace opposes the construction of the Belene reactors because of the high level nuclear waste the reactors will generate.

In February, Greenpeace joined Bulgarian court proceedings against the approval of the Environmental Impact Assessment on the Belene Nuclear Power Plant. Haverkamp says Greenpeace objects that the procedure has been manipulated, that vital data are missing and important analyses not have been carried out.

In reaction to the Greenpeace appeal, the Bulgarian authorities have tried to expel Greenpeace from court by manipulating formal arguments.

Belene

Cranes loom over the construction site for the Belene Nuclear Power Station in northern Bulgaria. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
"Obviously, the Bulgarian authorities are afraid for objective challenges of the decision procedure around the Belene nuclear power plant. They now try to silence opposition with far fetched formalities," said Haverkamp, consultant for nuclear energy issues in Central Europe for Greenpeace.

"It is clear that Greenpeace is seen as a threat to the project, and I would say, rightly so," said Haverkamp. "Belene is economically and environmentally a bad project that needs to be halted."

Educated as a chemist, Simeonova worked as a senior ecologist for the city of Botevgrad on environmental issues early in her career.

She then became the executive director of the Foundation for Ecological Education and Training, founded by the Bulgarian Green Party in 1991. Campaigning against the construction of nuclear power plants, in 1994 Simeonova organized the first public debate between the proponents and opponents of nuclear power.

She originated Ecological Inspectorates where citizens can call to report local environmental problems and get a swift, independent response from professionals. Sometimes Simeonova alone responds.

Bulgarian municipalities have now organized their own Eco-Inspectorates, or have provided funding to NGOs to start them. The original four inspectorate programs have grown to 25 and more are being planned.

To work towards nationwide coordination of environmental groups, in 1993 Simeonova persuaded Bulgarian organizations to come together in an association called the Green Parliament. She also has involved citizens of Bulgaria and Romania to address the problems of trans-boundary pollution.

As vice president of the Bulgarian Green Party, in 1995 Simeonova organized a dialogue involving members of the Green Parties of Western and Eastern Europe.

In 1996 Simeonova co-founded the Bulgarian Green Federation. Though not a lawyer herself, she has written municipal environmental regulations. In 1997 Simeonova helped establish the Green Justice Association, which works together with local authorities and NGOs to create new environmental legislation.

Simeonova has worked with the international E-LAW network of environmental lawyers since 1995.