Armenia needs more than a decade to replace the aging nuclear plant at Metsamor by a new facility and will therefore keep it operating until 2026, ten years longer than planned, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Armen Movsisian said on Thursday.
“All calculations show that in any case we need to prolong the plant’s life by several years,” Movsisian said. “The Armenian government has already decided to extend the existing Metsamor plant’s [design] lifespan by 10 years given the fact that the construction of a new nuclear block will take approximately that much time.”
The Armenian government officially announced in April its decision to delay Metsamor’s closure, initially due by 2016. But it did not specify just how long the Soviet-era facility generating roughly 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity will continue operating.
Metsamor was due to be decommissioned by September 2016 in accordance with the 30-year design lifespan of its sole functioning reactor. President Serzh Sarkisian said in December last year that it will remain operational longer in case of a delay in the construction of a new and more powerful nuclear plant planned by the government. Movsisian said afterwards that its construction will likely start in 2013.
The estimated cost of the ambitious project is $4.5 billion, a sum exceeding Armenia’s entire state budget. Armenian officials have said that Russia’s government and state-run energy corporations are ready to invest up to half of this sum. But they have yet to indicate other potential sources of funding for the project.
Movsisian revealed the approximate date of the plant’s closure, sought by the United States and the European Union, after taking part in a regular session of the inter-governmental U.S.-Armenia Joint Economic Taskforce (USATF) held in Yerevan.
Nuclear energy and Metsamor’s future in particular was on the agenda of the meeting co-chaired by Armenian Finance Minister Vache Gabrielian and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rubin. This resulted in the signing by Movsisian and U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern of a memorandum of understanding on U.S.-Armenian cooperation in the energy sector.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Movsisian and Rubin, Heffern said although the U.S. would have liked to see Metsamor shut down by 2016 it is ready to continue providing “the necessary resources to keep the plant operating safely.” He also made clear that the memorandum contains “no specific commitments” on Yerevan’s plans to build the new nuclear power station at the site of the existing facility located over 30 kilometers west of Yerevan.
Daniel Rosenblum, a senior State Department official coordinating U.S. assistance to former Soviet republics, said two years ago that Washington hopes U.S. companies will also participate in the Armenian nuclear project. Incidentally, Rosenblum also attended Thursday’s USATF meeting.
“It was a very open, productive and creative conversation,” Rubin said of the meeting. He said the task force discussed ways of boosting U.S.-Armenian trade and facilitating U.S. investments in the Armenian economy.
A separate statement by the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan implied that this requires an improved business environment in Armenia. “This year’s discussions focused on creating a better environment for promoting business and emphasized several sectors, including: tax and customs policy, fair and equitable competition, and respect for intellectual property rights,” it said.