By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s natural gas operator officially completed on Friday the reconstruction of some of its key facilities which has been financed by the European Union in the hope of speeding up the closure of the Metsamor nuclear plant.
Top executives from the Armrosgazprom company, joined by government officials and European diplomats, inaugurated three underground gas storage facilities just north of Yerevan. They were refurbished with 2 million euros ($2.7 million) provided by the EU’s executive Commission in 2002. The purpose of the program was to help to render Armenia’s gas network more modern and reliable.
Natural gas is used for generating more than a third of Armenia’s electricity. EU officials hope that increased use of the fuel would create an additional incentive for Yerevan to decommission Metsamor which satisfies over 40 percent of the resource-poor’s country’s energy needs.
“In essence, the European Union is helping us to create the prerequisites for the closure of the nuclear plant,” Deputy Energy Minister Areg Galstian told RFE/RL. One of those prerequisites is “reliable supplies of energy resources,” he said.
The EU believes that Metsamor’s Soviet-built reactor fails to meet modern safety standards and should be shut down as soon as possible. The bloc had hoped that this will happen in 2004. However, Armenian officials insist that the plant is secure enough to operate for at least ten more years.
Galstian reiterated the government’s position that Metsamor will not be closed without an alternative source of power created in its place. “We must have a new facility of the same capacity,” he said, adding that it could be a new thermal power station.
“In my view this [EU project] has in no way affected the closure of the nuclear plant,” said the Armrosgazprom director, Karen Karapetian. “We had to carry out this modernization anyway.”
Karapetian said the Russian-Armenian joint venture needs an additional $27 million for the network’s modernization and has already approached potential investors.