Russia has reaffirmed its stated commitment to help Armenia build a new nuclear plant, while cautioning that the ambitious and expensive project will not be easy to implement.
“For us there are no doubts [regarding the project.] We are not just ready, we want to participate in the elaboration of the financial package,” Nikolay Spassky, deputy director of Russia’s Rosatom state nuclear energy agency, said in Yerevan late on Wednesday.
The new plant would replace the Soviet-era nuclear facility at Metsamor that generates about 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity. The Armenian government had pledged to finish its construction by 2017, in time for the planned closure of the Metsamor plant. However, there are growing indications that the decommissioning process will be delayed by several years.
The delay reflects the government’s failure so far to raise an estimated $5 billion needed for building the new plant. Russian officials have said that Russia’s government and energy companies could make up to one-fifth of the required investments.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev commented on the matter after talks with his visiting Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarkisian, in the Kremlin on Monday. “Frankly, it requires massive incentives as these are not cheap projects, especially considering enhanced [safety] requirements that are presented to atomic energy nowadays,” he said.
“But we are continuing discussions on this projects and, I hope, will work out an optimal scheme for developing cooperation in the area of atomic energy,” added Medvedev.
“This is not a simple project and it requires clarification of a set of very difficult conditions,” Spassky told journalists after a meeting in Yerevan of top nuclear energy officials from several ex-Soviet states. Still, he insisted that Moscow continues to regard the Armenian project as “promising.”
The Russian and Armenian governments set up in late 2009 a joint venture tasked with building the new plant’s reactor. They also signed in August 2010, during Medvedev’s visit to Armenia, an agreement on “technical and financial cooperation” in the project’s realization.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy discussed the issue with Sarkisian when he visited Yerevan earlier this month. Sarkozy announced after the talks that a team of French specialists will travel to the South Caucasus state later this year to “try to assist Armenia in the sphere of atomic energy.”
“It is particularly good that France is willing to engage in the energy sphere, including in the work on the construction of a new nuclear power plant in Armenia,” Sarkisian said for his part.
The United States has also shown an interest in the idea of replacing Metsamor by a more modern plan meeting Western safety standards. A senior State Department official said in November 2010 that Washington hopes that U.S. companies will also participate in its planned construction.