By Atom Markarian
The Metsamor nuclear power station is facing uncertain prospects after the Armenian government’s failure to obtain fresh Russian loans for its only operating reactor which is running out of fuel. Ministers on Thursday admitted their inability to secure the remaining $11.7 million tranche of a 1999 credit which was supposed to underwrite more purchases of Russian nuclear fuel.
The Russian government has withheld disbursement of the money, demanding repayment of earlier loan extended to Armenia. Senior officials from the two countries have failed to reach agreement after months of negotiation. Moscow did not soften its position even after the government in Yerevan diverted $20 million in privatization proceeds to the repayment of its overall debt to Russia totaling $116 million. Of that $29 million are Metsamor-related debts.
The government decided that the Metsamor management should now itself look for sources of funding to keep up power generation. Metsamor’s Soviet-built reactor will be halted in early July for refueling and planned repair and maintenance works. Failure to pay for the Russian fuel deliveries could bring the facility, which provides nearly 40 percent of Armenia’s energy, to a prolonged halt.
The government said it will offer repayment guarantees to commercial banks and other financial institutions willing to make loans to Metsamor. The plant’s management on Friday declined to comment on possible sources of money.
Armenian energy officials announced last year that Metsamor will remain operational after the year 2004, the tentative date of its closure agreed with the European Union in the late 1990s. Officials from the Russian ministry of atomic energy, which helped to reactivate the plant in 1995, say it can function for at least ten more years without any risk to the environment.
Metsamor’s future was among issues discussed by President Robert Kocharian and senior EU officials in Brussels on Wednesday. The president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, said after talks with Kocharian that he was pleased that, despite many difficulties, Armenia remains committed to decommissioning the plant. But it was not clear whether the two sides reached an agreement on the new likely date of its closure.