By Emil Danielyan
The nuclear power plant at Metsamor, which generates over 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity, resumed power supplies on Thursday after standing idle for four months. Its longer-than-expected stoppage has cost the country several million dollars in additional expenses.
“The nuclear plant was successfully connected to the central power grid this morning,” its managing director, Suren Azatian, told RFE/RL. He said Metsamor’s only operating reactor, halted for regular maintenance and refuelling in early July, was reactivated on Tuesday.
The plant’s re-activation, originally slated for late August, has been delayed by the lack of funds to pay for fresh nuclear fuel from Russia. The fuel was delivered to Armenia last month only after a $4 million advance paid by the Armenian government. The rest of the $13 million bill is to be paid within the next three months. The government has still to decide how to raise the money.
Azatian said the maintenance measures carried out at the facility since July have further boosted its safety. He claimed that “the reactivation process has proceeded perfectly” despite the widespread discontent among the plant’s employees who have not been paid since June. The Metsamor staff have repeatedly threatened to go on strike over the wage arrears. The government has promised that they will receive their July salaries this week, according to Azatian.
The United States and the European Union have in the past expressed concern at the safety of Metsamor’s Soviet-era reactor and are pushing for its shutdown in 2004.
The Armenian authorities, however, insist that the plant is safe enough to operate for at least several more years until they find a substitute for the relatively cheap nuclear energy.
Armenia had to double imports of Russian natural gas, used by the thermal power plants, to make up for the electricity shortfall caused by Metsamor’s stoppage. The national gas distributor, Armrosgazprom, has since incurred fresh debts to Russia’s ITERA gas exporter.
The government approved on Thursday an $5 million emergency loan to Armosgazprom that will be used for the repayment of its debt to ITERA.