Related topics

Bulgaria Mulling Effects of Y2K

November 22, 1999

KOZLODUI, Bulgaria (AP) _ After assurances that the country’s only nuclear plant is safe from the Y2K bug, few Bulgarians are concerned about the potential effects of the millennium rollover.

Why bother, they ask, when trains and buses rarely run on time, power failures are common and telephone lines are often jammed. Daily life in Bulgaria already means dealing with basic services that don’t work.

Prolonged economic hardships that began before the end of communist rule 10 years ago in a country President Clinton was visiting today have left little money to modernize public transport, the country’s electricity grid or the postal and telephone networks.

That translates into bothersome breakdowns unthinkable in more prosperous countries: Creaky old buses expire during daily runs; heat and power are on one day, off the next; local phone calls can be a challenge.

``The public transport is a total mess and I can never manage to be on time,″ says Elena Damyanova, a former state Cartography Institute employee who used to draw maps but now works as a cleaning lady.

A well-dressed woman in her 50s, shivering in the November cold as she waited for a bus she expected to arrive late and overcrowded said she couldn’t imagine how Y2K could make transportation any worse. ``The drivers have to worry more about the holes that cover the streets.″

On the bright side, low-tech life in Bulgaria represents an advantage as computers roll over to year 2000. With few services computerized, there is less chance Bulgarians will experience major problems.

The only real concern was the Kozlodui nuclear plant because of fears that Soviet-era reactors are unsafe.

CIA expert Lawrence Gershwin told a congressional hearing in Washington last month that the chance of a nuclear incident in states with Soviet-designed reactors during the Y2K rollover is ``higher than normal because of the likelihood that the power grid could experience failures.″ Chances of radioactive releases cannot be discounted, he said.

But government officials say Kozlodui, 125 miles north of Sofia, is prepared for Y2K. Most computer-guided systems there have been tested and the rest will be well before New Year’s Eve, they say.

Much of the $500 million Bulgaria received from the World Bank for dealing with the Y2K problem was used to make sure the Kozlodui plant does not present a problem.

``The power industry is ready for the year 2000,″ said Mario Tagarinski, minister of state administration and chairman of the Y2K Consultation Council, during a recent visit to the country’s only nuclear plant, accompanied by Western diplomats.

On that tour, U.S. Ambassador Richard Miles said the government was ``making very big efforts to calm people’s concerns and to take the steps that are necessary so there won’t be any problems.″

``I don’t anticipate any serious problems here at all,″ he said. A decision to have embassy staff pulled out to avoid possible trouble caused by the millennium bug had been canceled in recognition of the state’s efforts to fix possible glitches, Miles added.

Indirectly, the Y2K concerns might benefit Bulgarians because money spent to ensure nothing goes wrong has led to improvements to notoriously bad basic services, like the power grid.

As a result, Bulgarians this time can be sure of light over New Year’s, said Ivanka Mechkarska, an official with the state energy committee.

``We can assure the public that we will not leave Bulgaria without electricity,″ she said.

Update hourly