US Expresses Concern about New Nuclear Power Plant in Armenia

YEREVAN (RFE/RL/Armenpress)–The United States has serious misgivings about the Armenian Government’s ambitious plans to build a new nuclear power station in place of the aging Medzamor plant–said a senior US official Tuesday during the 12th meeting of the US-Armenian Economic Task Force in Yerevan.

Tom Adams–who coordinates US Government assistance to former Soviet republics–expressed Washington’s position on the issue after attending a regular session of the inter-governmental body co-chaired by Adams and Armenian Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian.

Armenia’s energy security was high on the agenda of the one-day meeting–with Khachatrian saying that the Armenian side discussed with its US counterparts Yerevan’s intention to replace Medzamor with a more modern and powerful nuclear plant.

"The ideal option in our [energy] strategy would be to launch the new facility on the day that the existing reactor will stop operating," said Khachatrian during a joint news conference with Adams and John Evans–the US ambassador in Yerevan.

Medzamor–which generates nearly 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity–is expected to be decommissioned by 2016. The plant remains open despite pressure from the US and the European Union–which say the plant’s sole operating reactor is too old and unsafe.

Adams noted that the mountainous country is located in a seismically active zone that poses serious safety risks. "I think our view right now is that there are probably better alternatives to a second nuclear plant [in Armenia]," he said.

Another–more high-ranking US official–Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza–appeared more supportive of the idea when he visited Yerevan in early March. Bryza noted that a "new generation of nuclear power" is one of potential ways of ensuring Armenia’s energy security. The issue was high on the agenda of his talks with senior Armenian officials.

Building a new nuclear facility would cost Armenia at least $1 billion–a sum worth its budget for this year. The Government says it cannot put the ambitious project put into practice without external financial support–saying that it is already looking for potential foreign investors.

The 12th session of the task force also discussed development of the Armenian economy–democratic reforms–and issues pertaining to the Millennium Challenges Account program. Also discussed were agriculture–energy–education–and judicial issues.

The US-Armenian Task Force was founded in 2002 to promote US-Armenian cooperation. The Task Force holds two annual meetings–one in Armenia and one in the US. Over the last decade–the US Government has carried out various development and humanitarian projects worth $1.6 billion in Armenia.


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