The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog inspected the nuclear plant at Metsamor and discussed with Armenian leaders their plans to delay its decommissioning during a visit to Armenia on Wednesday.
Official news sources in Yerevan said Yukiya Amano, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was also briefed on the Armenian government’s ambitious project to replace the aging Soviet-era facility by a new plant meeting modern safety standards.
“You are planning to extend the nuclear plant’s life span and then halt and decommission it,” a government statement quoted Amano as telling Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian. “At all those stages, our agency is obliged to assist Armenia in carrying out that work smoothly.”
“Armenia is committed to further deepening our productive cooperation with the IAEA,” Sarkisian said. “The government is paying a lot of attention to ensuring safe exploitation of the atomic block.”
Amano discussed the matter at a separate meeting with Energy Minister Armen Movsisian. A statement by Movsisian’s ministry said they looked into ongoing efforts to enhance the plant’s “level of safety and physical protection” as well as “technical assistance” for the decommissioning process.
Amano and other IAEA officials accompanying him familiarized themselves with the safety measures when they visited Metsamor after the meeting with Movsisian. According to the ministry statement, they inspected various units of the plant generating about 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity.
Metsamor’s sole functioning reactor was supposed to be shut down by 2017, in time for the planned construction of a new and more powerful facility at the same site more than 30 kilometers west of Yerevan. But with the ambitious project clearly falling behind schedule, the Armenian government has indicated that the current plant will operate longer than planned despite lingering domestic and international concerns about its safety.
Amano discussed the project estimated to cost $5 billion with Sarkisian, Movsisian as well as Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian. He was reported to call for “joint efforts to ensure a high degree of transparency” in its implementation.
“The prime minister assured him that Armenia is interested in that and ready to continue to act in an open and transparent manner,” the government’s press office said. It said Sarkisian also told Amano that the government has already drawn up a “timetable for measures to extend the existing nuclear plant’s operations and ensure its safety.”
The long-standing concerns over Metsamor’s safety were rekindled last year by grave accidents at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The authorities in Yerevan responded by initiating a two-week inspection of Metsamor by IAEA experts.
The Vienna-based watchdog’s ad hoc Operational Safety Review Team (OSART) concluded in June that the plant poses an “acceptable” level of risk to the environment and can, in principle, operate beyond its design life span.