No Alternative No Shutdown

YEREVAN (AP Worldstream)–Armenia cannot shut down its sole nuclear reactor until an alternative energy source has been found–Trade and Economic Development Minister Karen Chshmaritian said Wednesday during talks with European Union officials.

Armenia is under pressure from the EU to shut down the Soviet-era Medzamor plant–but Chshmaritian said that to do so would threaten Armenia’s economy.

The plant–30 kilometers (20 miles) west of the capital Yerevan–has one working Soviet-made reactor that supplies about 45 percent of Armenia’s electricity.

"This nuclear power plant must be closed as soon as possible," said Hugues Mingarrelli–who oversees former Soviet republics for the European Commission–the EU’s executive arm. "Right now–we are conducting studies to find the best alternative to the power plant."

The EU is researching possible alternatives to the nuclear plant for Armenia–including a gas pipeline from Iran–said Hughes Mingarelli–an EU official in charge of relations with Eastern Europe–the Caucasus and Central Asia. He said the EU plans to allocate [euro]120 million (US$140 million) for the plant’s closure.

The Medzamor reactor was closed in 1989 amid safety concerns following a devastating 1988 earthquake–but was restarted in 1995 during a severe energy shortage in the impoverished country.

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