By Ruben Meloyan
The Armenian government will call this week an international tender for the right to build a new nuclear power station in place of the Soviet-era facility at Metsamor, Energy Minister Armen Movsisian said on Monday.
Movsisian said the government has already approved bidding specifications and will formally call for proposals “in a few days’ time.” It expects to choose a winner by late February, he told journalists.
It remained unclear, however, who will finance the project estimated to cost at least $1 billion.
The government hopes to have the new plant built by 2016, in time for the planned decommissioning of Metsamor’s sole operating reactor which generates about 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity. President Serzh Sarkisian announced in October that work on the facility meeting modern safety standards will start “in the coming months.”
The United States and the European Union, which have long been pushing for Metsamor’s closure, support the ambitious idea in principle. The U.S. government allocated in November 2007 $2 million for the first feasibility studies on the project that were jointly conducted by Armenian and U.S. atomic energy experts this year. But U.S. diplomats have made clear that Washington will not finance the plant’s construction.
Movsisian indicated that Yerevan has still not attracted funding for the project. Armenian officials have spoken of Russia as the likely source of that funding.
Sergei Kirienko, head of Russia’s Federal Agency on Atomic Energy (Rosatom), discussed the matter during an April visit to Yerevan. He said Russian energy companies have expressed strong interest in the construction of a new Armenian nuclear plant and are well placed to win the planned tender.
Movsisian stressed that the winner will be tasked with only building the new plant and that the latter will be run by a different foreign company. “We have to find a company knowledgeable about all the subtleties [of nuclear power generation] and assign it to do this,” he said.
As the minister held a news conference several dozen Metsamor employees gathered outside the Energy Ministry in Yerevan to demand pay rises and greater social benefits. They said their current average wage of 130,000 drams ($420) per month has barely grown over the past decade.
“Those who work with the reactor usually do not live for more than 55 years,” Vahram Baghdasarian, a senior reactor engineer, told RFE/RL. “They die very early. Our parents were among them and the same fate awaits us.”
“We have no social protection, no hope for the future, no privileges for medical assistance,” he said.