Medzamor Won’t Close Without Alternative Energy Source

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian government reaffirmed its position on the closure of the Medzamor nuclear power plant during talks with senior officials from the European Union last week–saying that it would not close in the near future–Industry Minister Karen Chshmaritian said on Tuesday.

Chshmaritian headed a delegation of Armenian government officials at a regular meeting of an Armenia-EU "cooperation committee" in Brussels on Friday. The issue of Medzamor’s future was high on its agenda.

"The European side wants Armenia to set a date [for Medzamor’s closure]," Chshmaritian told a news conference. "However–Armenia can not set a date without having financing resources [to replace the facility] and clarifying the entire procedure for the closure."

The EU has long been arguing that the plant is located in a seismically active area and that its Soviet-built nuclear reactor does not meet modern safety standards. The bloc’s executive European Commission has offered to grant Armenia 100 million euros ($123 million) in return for the decommissioning of the plant which generates about 40 percent of the country’s electricity.

Chshmaritian reiterated Yerevan’s rejection of the offer–saying that as much as $1 billion is needed to safely shut down Metsamor and put in place an alternative source of inexpensive energy. "The Energy Ministry presented its calculations [to the EU]; the total cost of the work would be worth that much," he said–adding that the Armenia-EU body decided to set-up a fact-finding group that will present its report by year end.

The government wants to keep Medzamor operational for at least another decade despite its past promise to the EU to decommission the plant in 2004. The European Commission now seems to be stepping up pressure on Yerevan to do that as soon as possible in line with its policy of phasing out all Soviet-designed reactors remaining in Eastern Europe.

Still–an EU spokeswoman in Brussels said last week that the bloc would continue to finance further measures to improve Medzamor’s operational safety "up to its closure."

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