The nuclear power station at Metsamor may well be deemed safe enough to remain operational until 2037, Energy Minister Garegin Baghramian said on Wednesday.
Metsamor’s sole functioning reactor went into service in 1980 and was due to be decommissioned by 2017. The former Armenian government decided to extend the life of the 420-megawatt reactor by 10 years after failing to attract billions of dollars in foreign investment for its ambitious plans to build a new and safer nuclear facility.
Russia is playing a key role in ongoing safety upgrades at Metsamor, having provided Armenia with a $270 million loan and a $30 million grant in 2015.
Baghramian said that in theory Soviet-designed reactors like Metsamor’s can safely to operate for up to 60 years.
“So when the 10-year term of our nuclear plant’s [extended] service expires, a meticulous examination of its reactor will naturally have to be conducted,” he told reporters. “And if it turns out that the reactor’s life span has still not been exhausted, we will obtain all necessary permission [for another 10-year extension.]”
The European Union and the United State have long pressed for the closure of the plant generating more than one-third of Armenia’s electricity. They have said that its reactor does not meet modern safety standards. Successive Armenian governments have sought to allay these fears.
A wide-ranging agreement signed by Armenia and the EU last year calls for “the safe decommissioning of Metsamor nuclear power plant and the early adoption of a road map or action plan to that effect.” It says at the same time that such a plan must take into account “the need for [the plant’s] replacement with new capacity to ensure the energy security of the Republic of Armenia.”
Officials in Yerevan have emphasized the latter provision, saying that the Comprehensive and Enhance Partnership Agreement with the EU sets no time frames for shutting down the plant located 35 kilometers west of Yerevan.