By Shakeh Avoyan
The Russian and Armenian governments agreed on Monday to jointly develop Armenia’s untapped uranium reserves which they said could make the country self-sufficient in production of nuclear energy.
A relevant agreement was signed in Yerevan by Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and Sergey Kirienko, the visiting head of Russia’s Federal Agency on Atomic Energy (Rosatom).
“The main purpose of the agreement is to look for radioactive materials in Armenia and jointly develop those resources,” said Environment Minister Vartan Ayvazian.
According to Kirienko, the two sides will set up a joint venture that will explore areas in the southeastern Syunik region which Armenian and Russian geologists believe are rich in uranium. He was confident that they will discover commercially viable reserves of the radioactive metal used in nuclear power generation.
“Armenia will be able to meet its needs and sell [uranium] to others,” the Rosatom chief told journalists “It is turning from an energy resource dependent country to an energy resource exporting one.”
A U.S. company, Global Gold, is already looking for uranium in another region of Armenia.
The mountainous country was a major center of non-ferrous metallurgy in the former Soviet Union and still exports copper and gold in large quantities. But its uranium reserves, estimated at 30,000 metric tons by Soviet geologists, have not been developed so far. Officials said the real reserves may be twice bigger.
In Kirienko’s words, Armenia could become one of the few countries of the world with a full uranium production cycle from extraction of the metal to its transformation into nuclear fuel. Some of that fuel would be supplied to the nuclear power station at Metsamor, he said.
The Armenian government plans to decommission the Metsamor plant by 2016 in accordance with its commitments to the European Union and the United States. It announced plans last year to replace the Soviet-era facility with a new plant meeting modern safety standards. The government pushed through parliament a legal amendment allowing it to look for foreign investors that would be willing to provide an estimated $1 billion needed for its construction. Kirienko said Moscow is ready to participate in the ambitious project.