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Armenia will seek to extend the term of operation for its Soviet-built nuclear power plant until it manages to construct a new reactor, a local official confirmed on Monday.

The Armenian government has pledged to decommission the plant in Metsamor in 2016 when it plans to have a new and more powerful nuclear facility at the same site over 30 kilometers west of capital Yerevan. The work on the new nuclear reactor for the landlocked South Caucasus state that has very limited energy resources was supposed to start in 2012, but the ambitious project has not yet gotten off the drawing board as sources of funding for the bulk of the project remain vague.

The plant’s administration has pledged to submit a complex program of safety measures to Armenia’s State Committee on Nuclear Safety by September 1 in order to get permission for extending the term of the facility’s operation.

Ashot Martirosian, the head of the committee, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) that by implementing complex safety measures it is possible to make sure the existing reactor will function longer than planned. The risk threshold continuously gets pushed further away with these measures taken regularly, he argued.

“At present, the nuclear power plant’s safety risk can be said to correspond to the risk threshold set for such nuclear power plants,” Martirosian emphasized.

The Armenian government has so far named sources for financing only less than half of the project that has an estimated cost of $5 billion. Russia’s Rosatom state nuclear energy corporation intends to make more than 25 percent of the required investment. Another 20 percent of the cost of the project would be covered by the Armenian government. Negotiations regarding the investment for the remaining part of the project are underway, but it becomes highly unlikely that Armenia will manage to build the new facility by 2017.

“Naturally, the new nuclear reactor won’t be commissioned in 2016, so we start thinking about extending the term of the plant’s operation early on,” said Martirosian, adding that countries like Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and others have had such experiences. The official said that all requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would be considered in developing the program for the Armenian plant.

In 2011, the IAEA’s ad hoc Operational Safety Review Team conducted an inspection at the Metsamor plant assessing the risk that exists there as “acceptable”.
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