By Shakeh Avoyan
The Metsamor nuclear power station, the number one source of Armenia’s electricity, will suspend its operations early next month due to regular capital repairs and a partial refueling of its sole functioning reactor, the plant’s executive director said on Friday.
“We need to fully empty the reactor and examine its body,” Gagik Markosian told RFE/RL. He said Metsamor staff will also carry out other regular safety measures overseen by officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“Capital repairs are conducted once in four years and their standard length is 65 days,” said Markosian. “We won’t be operational for 85 days this time around because we plan do to additional large-scale and important work.”
The stoppage is also needed for carrying out an annual replacement of one third of the plant’s nuclear fuel supplied from Russia, he said.
Metsamor produced almost half of Armenia’s electricity in the first half of this year, highlighting its significance for the country’s energy security. Its impending stoppage coincided with the Armenian government’s decision to significantly increase the volume of water flowing from Lake Sevan into the river Hrazdan that feeds a cascade of hydro-electric plants. These and other Armenian hydro-electric plants accounted for nearly one third of first-half electricity output.
Markosian dismissed media speculation that the government wants to compensate for the temporary energy deficit with Sevan’s water. “I don’t see a direct link [between the two developments,]” he said. “We have sufficient energy to make up for the nuclear plant’s stoppage.”
The United States and the European Union have long been pressing the Armenian authorities to shut down Metsamor, saying that its Soviet-designed reactor does not meet modern safety standards. The authorities insists that the facility is safe enough to function until 2016, the anticipate date of its decommission. They intend to replace it by a new and more powerful nuclear plant by that time.
Both the U.S. and the EU support the ambitious project in principle. Washington allocated last November $2 million for the first feasibility studies on the project to be jointly conducted by Armenian and U.S. atomic energy experts this year. But U.S. diplomats made clear that Washington will not fully or partly finance the new plant’s construction estimated to cost at least $1 billion.