(AP) - Authorities said Friday they will begin capital repairs to and refueling of Armenia's only nuclear power station, the source of nearly 40 percent of the country's power and repeated international concerns over safety.
Gagik Markosian, general director of the Metsamor plant, 30 kilometers (20 miles) west of the capital Yerevan, said the plant will shut down early Saturday morning for at least two months for repairs on the reactor core. "We also plan to remove all nuclear fuel from the reactor and conduct full inspection of the condition of the reactor's metal container shell," Markosian said.
Last week, the plant took delivery of a new supply of nuclear fuel at a cost of US$12 million, he said. Armenia has been under pressure to shut the plant down due to safety concerns; it was taken out of operation after a devastating 1988 earthquake. In 1995, it returned to service amid a severe energy shortage. Armenia has since resisted shutting down the plant, which has one working Soviet-made reactor supplying 40 percent of the country's electricity, fearing that alternative sources may be hard to come by.
Armenian officials say the European Union is ready to provide up to 100 million euro ($120 million) for Yerevan to close the plant. However, developing other sources of electricity could cost up to $1 billion, Armenian officials say.
Russia's electricity monopoly assumed financial control of the nuclear plant last year in a deal that Armenia sought to get out from under massive energy debts to Russian fuel suppliers. The plant, however, remains the property of the Armenian government.