YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The head of Russia’s Federal Agency on Atomic Energy (Rosatom), Sergey Kirienko, ended at the weekend a two-day visit to Armenia during which he discussed with Armenian leaders growing bilateral cooperation on nuclear energy that “will allow Armenia to solidify its role as a energy exporting country.”
Kirienko met with Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian on Friday and President Serzh Sarkisian the next day to review Russian-Armenian nuclear projects.
According to the president’s office, Sarkisian and Kirienko agreed that their implementation “will allow Armenia to solidify its role as a energy exporting country.”
The Rosatom chief said Armenia could become one of the few countries of the world with a full uranium production cycle from extraction of the metal to its transformation into nuclear fuel. Some of that fuel would be supplied to the Metsamor plant, he said.
Sarkisian’s office said Kirienko and the Armenian president discussed the ongoing exploration of Armenia’s untapped uranium reserves by a Russian-Armenian joint venture that was set up for that purpose last year. The Interfax news agency quoted Movsisian as saying that the company will start its first drilling operations in the southeastern Syunik region later this year or early next.
Physical estimates of the uranium deposits there have varied from 10,000 to 60,000 tones. Visiting Yerevan in April 2007, Kirienko expressed confidence that Armenian and Russian specialists will discover commercially viable amounts of the radioactive metal used in nuclear power generation.
A statement by Sarkisian’s press service said Sarkisian and Kirienko specifically discussed the Armenian government’s plans to build a new nuclear power plant in place of the aging facility at Metsamor which is due to be decommissioned by 2017. It gave no details, saying only that they talked about “steps to be taken towards the construction of the atomic station’s new power-generating unity.”
The Russian government and energy companies have shown strong interest in participating in the project estimated to cost $5 billion. The Moscow daily “Kommersant” claimed last week that Russia has offered to scale back a planned increase in the price of its natural gas for Armenia in return for securing the right to build the new plant. Energy Minister Armen Movsisian dismissed the report on October 16.
Speaking to journalists, Movsisian argued the plant will likely be built by a multinational consortium of construction firms that are due to be chosen by “several investors” financing the massive project. He said that will happen after the Australian engineering company Worley Parsons, which was contracted by the government to manage the project earlier this year, submits a final and detailed feasibility study on the would-be facility. “So I don’t think [the Russians] will raise such an issue,” he said.
Movsisian predicted earlier that construction work on the plant, which would be at least twice as powerful as Metsamor’s sole operating reactor, will start by the beginning of 2011.