By Atom Markarian
The Armenian government approved on Thursday what it called a “temporary use” of $4 million in proceeds from privatization as an advance payment for a fresh batch of Russian nuclear fuel worth $13 million. The fuel is needed for reactivating the only operating reactor of the Metsamor nuclear plant, which was brought to a halt in July for planned maintenance and refuelling.
The reactivation, originally due in late August, has been held up by the Russian government’s insistence that Armenia provide a specific timetable for paying for the deliveries. Under an agreement reached by Energy Minister Karen Galustian and Russian atomic energy officials a month ago, the fuel was to reach Armenia by mid-September.
But Yerevan’s inability to raise the money has led to a further delay in the resumption of Metsamor’s operations, which means additional costs for the Armenian energy sector. Thursday’s cabinet decision reflected the urgency of the situation.
The government said the privatization money will be returned to the state treasury within the next 15 days, after the energy ministry secures a $4 million loan from the Inter-State Bank of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The government has had to increase imports of Russian natural gas to boost electricity output at thermal power plants and thereby make up for Metsamor’s two-month stoppage. The Soviet-era nuclear plant provides 45 percent of power generated in Armenia. Experts say that, with atomic energy costing much less than thermal power, the stoppage has already cost the country up to $5 million.