By Atom Markarian
The European Union will provide 4 million euros ($4.85 million) worth of additional assistance to Armenia for measures to strengthen the operational safety of the nuclear power station at Metsamor in the next two years, officials said on Friday.
The plant’s director, Gagik Markosian, said a relevant agreement between the Armenian Energy Ministry was signed on Thursday.
The news follows a separate announcement earlier this week by Energy Minister Armen Movsisian that the United States intends to allocate $7 million for the same purpose. The U.S. government has already spent $35 million on boosting Metsamor’s safety standards since its reactivation in 1995.
The overall amount of EU aid to the facility has since surpassed $20 million.
The massive technical and financial support is largely motivated by EU and U.S. concerns that Metsamor’s Soviet-designed reactor, which generates up to 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity, may be too vulnerable to accidents that would have catastrophic consequences not only for Armenia and but also the entire region. Both America and particularly Europe have been urging Yerevan to decommission it as soon as possible.
The Armenia government, however, insists that the external help and oversight has the plant more reliable and that it is now safe enough to operate for at least ten more years. Markosian said the EU’s decision to continue to finance Metsamor suggests that Brussels has abandoned its long-standing demands for the plant to be shut down in 2004.
“If the EU sought the Armenian atomic station’s closure in 2004, it would not launch projects covering 2004 and 2005,” he told reporters inside the sprawling Metsamor compound 30 kilometers west of Yerevan.
But Deputy Energy Minister Areg Galstian, who also spoke at the news conference, was less categorical, saying that the EU never linked its nuclear safety programs in Armenia to Metsamor’s decommissioning.