By Armen Zakarian and Emil Danielyan
The nuclear power station at Metsamor will be reactivated this month without a planned partial refueling amid an apparent deadlock in Russian-Armenian negotiations over supplies of fresh Russian nuclear fuel.
Energy Minister Armen Movsisian announced on Friday that the plant’s only functioning reactor will be operational before the end of January and will again be halted in April. He claimed that the Armenian government has already reached agreement with the Russians on the terms of fuel supplies and decided to postpone the refueling to avoid another Metsamor stoppage during the next winter.
The Armenian Energy Ministry brought the plant to a halt last October in order to replace one third of its operating fuel worth $8 million. Movsisian said the ministry has now decided to nearly double the purchase volume so that Metsamor can produce electricity for 300 consecutive days. He said more than 100 Russian uranium “cassettes” will be shipped to Armenia in late April.
Some local analysts cast doubt on the success of the Russian-Armenian negotiations, however. The two governments reached last September a barter agreement on Armenia’s payment for the past and fresh nuclear fuel deliveries, and Metsamor’s stoppage was originally due to last for only 45 days.
But subsequent talks appear to have stalled with the Russian nuclear operator, RosEnergoAtom, reportedly demanding more guarantees that Yerevan will repay $32 million in outstanding debts. As recently as on December 3, President Robert Kocharian assured local and international atomic energy experts that the problem will be sorted out “in a few days.”
The ensuing delays, which have meant millions of dollars in losses for the Armenian energy sector, fueled speculation that Moscow is no longer interested in Metsamor’s continued operations and wants to make Armenia even more reliant on Russian natural gas. Gas is the main source of the more expensive energy generated by Armenian thermal power plants.
Some local newspapers have also claimed that the Kremlin wants to gain additional leverage against Armenia in advance of the February 19 presidential elections. Movsisian and other Armenian officials have dismissed the speculation.
The issue is expected to feature large during Kocharian’s visit to Moscow scheduled for January 16-18.
Kocharian avoided any contacts with journalists on Friday while he attended the official inauguration of two newly refurbished units of the Kanaker hydro-electric plant, the oldest in Armenia. The two-year repair was financed by a $18 million low-interest loan provided by the government of Germany.
Hydro-electric plants built along mountainous rivers account for over 20 percent of Armenia’s energy. Kanaker is one of the ten biggest plants owned by the state. Over a dozen smaller ones are now in private hands. The governments plans to build between 40 and 50 such facilities in the next 20 years as part of its energy security strategy.