The Metsamor nuclear power station generating more than one-third of Armenia’s electricity is safe enough to remain operational until 2036, Minister for Territorial Administration and Infrastructures Suren Papikian said on Tuesday.
Metsamor’s presently 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.
Papikian suggested that Metsamor can operate for another 10 years, citing its ongoing modernization financed by Russia. “I don’t want to get ahead of time but its existing facilities allow that,” he told reporters during a visit to the plant located 35 kilometers west of Yerevan.
Papikian cautioned that another extension of Metsamor reactor’s life is a “matter of the future” which has not been discussed by the current government. But he also stressed that Armenia has no international obligation to shut it down in 2026.
The European Union and the United State have long pressed for the closure of the plant, saying 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 in 2017 calls for “the safe decommissioning of Metsamor nuclear power plant and the early adoption of a road map or action plan to that effect.” At the same time it acknowledges the need for the plant’s “replacement with new capacity to ensure the energy security of the Republic of Armenia.” Also, the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement sets no time frames for the decommissioning.
Papikian said foreign powers should understand that atomic energy is “vital” for Armenia not least because of long-running economic blockades imposed on it by neighboring Azerbaijan and Turkey.
“Armenia aims to only be self-sufficient in terms of energy but also continue to be an [electricity] exporting country,” he said. “Right now the nuclear plant produces 40 percent of Armenia’s energy. That [proportion] could reach 50 percent if it operates at full capacity.”
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. The modernization processed was supposed to be completed this year. But it has fallen behind schedule and, according to Papikian, is now slated for completion in 2021.
“This is a fairly difficult process and, given the importance of this facility and safety issues, haste could sometimes damage this work,” explained the minister. “So this naturally creates the need to extend some of the work deadlines.”