By Atom Markarian
The Armenian government remains determined not to close the Metsamor nuclear power plant in the near future and reaffirmed this position during talks with senior officials from the European Union last week, Industry Minister Karen Chshmaritian said on Tuesday.
Chshmaritian headed a delegation of government officials who represented Yerevan at a regular meeting of an Armenia-EU “cooperation committee” which took place in Brussels on Friday. The issue of Metsamor’s future was high on its agenda.
“The European side wants Armenia to set a date [for Metsamor’s closure],” Chshmaritian told a news conference. “However, Armenia can not set a date without having financing resources [to replace the facility] and clarifying the entire procedure for the closure.”
The EU has long been arguing that the plant is located in a seismically active area and that its Soviet-built nuclear reactor does not meet modern safety standards. The bloc’s executive European Commission has offered to grant Armenia 100 million euros ($123 million) in return for the decommissioning of the plant which generates about 40 percent of the country’s electricity.
Chshmaritian reiterated Yerevan’s rejection of the offer, saying that as much as $1 billion is needed for safely shutting down Metsamor safely and putting in place an alternative source of inexpensive energy. “The Energy Ministry presented its calculations [to the EU], according to which the total cost of the work would be worth that much,” he said. He added the Armenia-EU body decided to set up a working group that will look into the issue in detail and present its findings by the end of this year.
The government wants to keep Metsamor operational for at least another decade despite its past promise to the EU to decommission the plant in 2004. The European Commission now seems to be stepping up pressure on Yerevan to do that as soon as possible in line with its policy of phasing out all Soviet-designed reactors remaining in Eastern Europe.
Still, an EU spokeswoman in Brussels told RFE/RL last week that the bloc will continue to finance further measures to improve Metsamor’s operational safety “up to its closure.”