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Armenia’s government unveiled on Thursday plans to create a Russian-Armenian joint venture tasked with building a nuclear power station in place of the aging Soviet-era facility at Metsamor by 2017.

Ministers also approved the overall design and main technical parameters of the plant’s reactor to be purchased from Russia. With a projected capacity of just over 1,000 megawatts, it would be more than twice as powerful as Metsamor’s sole operating reactor which generates roughly 40 percent of the country’s electricity.

“We are making a political decision today,” Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said during a cabinet meeting. “We are agreeing to set up a joint venture with our Russian partners with a 50/50 ratio. This fits into the strategy of building a new nuclear plant which we approved at a [recent] meeting of the National Security Council.”

In accordance with the decision, the joint venture will be set up by the Armenian government and a state-run Russian company, Atmostroyexport. The new plant is to have a Russian AES-92 pressurized light-water reactor with what Energy and Natural Resources Minister Armen Movsisian described as a “European safety certificate.”

Movsisian told fellow cabinet members that the decision is based on the recommendations of WorleyParsons, an Australian engineering company that was chosen by the government in May to manage its extremely ambitious nuclear project.

AES-92 is a new generation of the Soviet-era VVER reactors that has been licensed by regulatory authorities in Russia and declared to meet safety requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The government instructed Movsisian’s ministry to start preparations for supply contracts with Russian nuclear energy companies.

Vahram Petrosian, director of a Yerevan-based research institute specializing in atomic energy, welcomed the choice of the reactor, saying that Russian nuclear facilities are “among the best in the world” not least because of the quality of their metal casings. “It is well known in the world that Russian metal is good metal,” he told RFE/RL.

Petrosian noted at the same time that the government should purchase and install other, “auxiliary” segments of the new plant from Western manufacturers. “In my view -- and I think this is what is going to be done -- it would be right for some of those auxiliary systems to be American-made,” he said.

“A lot also depends on measurement and control devices,” added the nuclear scientist. “It is important to make the right choice of device operators. They can, for example, be obtained from France.”

The government has still not answered the key lingering question of who will finance the planned work on Metsamor’s replacement. The total cost of the project is estimated at a whopping $5 billion, a sum twice higher than Armenia’s state budget for this year. The initial authorized capital of the Russian-Armenian venture will stand at a symbolic 60 million drams ($156,000).

Movsisian has repeatedly stated that Yerevan will succeed in finding foreign investors interested in the project. He said in May that the construction work will start by the beginning of 2011.

“The process of constructing the atomic plant is going smoothly,” Prime Minister Sarkisian insisted on Thursday.
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