By Hrach Melkumian
Armenia has carried out imports of a fresh batch of Russian nuclear fuel and will re-activate its strategic nuclear power station at Metsamor next month, Energy Minister Armen Movsisian announced on Friday.
“We can announce that a necessary amount of nuclear fuel has been shipped to Armenia,” Movsisian told journalists. “The refueling of the nuclear plant is underway and it will resume its work within a short period of time.”
The refueling process will take “between 20 and 30 days,” he added. The fuel shipments, conducted by air, began last week.
Metsamor’s only functioning reactor ground to a halt on April 4 after utilizing its remaining nuclear fuel. The plant, which generates about 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity, faced an uncertain future after the Armenian government failed to repay its $28 million debt to Russian suppliers and to raise an additional $12 million for fresh deliveries.
The government eventually struck a controversial deal with Russia’s state-controlled RAO UES power utility which agreed to provide the money in exchange for taking over Metsamor’s financial management. UES was also granted ownership of six Armenian hydro-electric plants valued at $25 million.
The deal, criticized by the Armenian opposition, placed the country’s virtually entire energy sector under Russian control. The Russians already supply 80 percent of Armenia’s energy resources and own its largest thermal power plant.
The United States and the European Union have long been pushing for Metsamor’s closure, saying that its Soviet-era reactor fails to meet current international standards for safety. Senior EU officials reiterated this position during a visit to Yerevan last week. They also reaffirmed an offer of a 100 million-euro ($117 million) grant to Armenia linked by the EU to Metsamor’s decommissioning.
The Armenian government says it will not shut down the plant without finding an alternative source of relatively cheap energy. The government says the promised EU money is not enough for doing that.