By Emil Danielyan
Workers at Armenia's lone nuclear power plant, who haven't been paid in five months, warned on Friday that the authorities will risk “unpredictable consequences” if they don’t clear the wage arrears within the next two weeks. In a letter to President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, about 160 employees of the Metsamor plant said their mounting frustration endangers its safety.
"The safety of the nuclear plant to a significant degree depends on the moral and psychological environment at the plant, which is conditioned on wages," the letter, published in the “Aravot” daily, said.
“We do not demand anything except our salaries and are keen to make sure that you pay us the entire five-month wage within two weeks. Otherwise, we will resort to drastic steps because we see no other way out.” The letter did not specify what those steps could be.
Metsamor, which provides about 45 percent of the country's electricity, is owed $120 million from the Hayenergo national power grid, and is currently unable to pay wages because of the debt. The plant’s continued operations were thrown into doubt earlier this month after the Armenian government’s failure to obtain fresh Russian loans for its only operating reactor which is running out of fuel.
The government admitted on June 7 its inability to secure the remaining $11.7 million tranche of a 1999 credit which was supposed to finance more purchases of Russian nuclear fuel. Ministers decided that the Metsamor management should now itself look for sources of funding to keep up power generation.
The plant’s executive director, Suren Azatian, has challenged the move, saying that the government should instead force Hayenergo to pay its debts.
Metsamor’s Soviet-built reactor will be halted in early July for refueling and planned repair and maintenance works. Failure to buy fresh fuel could bring the facility to a prolonged halt.
Armenia has been under pressure to close Metsamor because of concerns about the safety of its reactor, and has sought international aid for developing alternative energy sources.