YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The United States hopes that American companies will participate in the planned construction of a new nuclear power station in Armenia, a senior State Department official announced on Monday.
Daniel Rosenblum, who coordinates U.S. government assistance to former Communist states, said the matter was discussed at a regular meeting in Yerevan of the U.S.-Armenia Joint Economic Task Force (USATF), which he co-chairs with Armenian Economy Minister Nerses Yeritsian.
“We are interested in having U.S. companies participate [in the nuclear project,] if possible,” Rosenblum told a news conference after the meeting. “We did discuss it today at the session, although it’s one among many energy-related issues that were on the agenda.”
The Armenian government plans to close the Soviet-built nuclear plant at Metsamor, which generates about 40 percent of the country’s electricity and build a new, modern facility in its place in the coming years. Chances for the implementation of the extremely ambitious projects increased in late August with the signing of a Russian-Armenian agreement on “technical and financial cooperation” over the plant’s construction.
Russian energy officials said Moscow could provide up to one-fifth of an estimated $5 billion in investments needed for the new plant. Yerevan has yet to secure other sources of funding.
The Russian and Armenian governments already set up late last year a joint venture tasked with building the plant’s reactor. Armenian officials said other plant facilities might well be built by or receive equipment from Western nuclear energy firms. According to them, equipment suppliers will be chosen in international tenders.
“We have worked for many years very closely with the Armenian government, with the nuclear industry here on the safe use of nuclear power and also on issues concerning proliferation of nuclear materials, and we will continue that joint work with the government,” said Rosenblum. “But at the same time when there are private sector opportunities, we would like to promote them.”
The U.S. government already allocated in late 2007 $2 million for a feasibility study on the project. “We look forward to the rapid replacement of the Metsamor facility with a more modern and safer plant,” a senior U.S. diplomat in Yerevan said at the time.
The U.S. and the European Union have spent much larger sums on wide-ranging safety measures at the Metsamor plant since its reactivation in 1995. The plant was due to be decommissioned by 2017.
However, Ashot Martirosian, the head of Armenia’s State Committee on Nuclear Safety, told RFE/RL in August that the shutdown is likely to be delayed by several years because the new plant’s construction will last longer than was anticipated by the government.
The Armenian Economy Ministry and the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan made no mention of the nuclear project in separate statements on the USATF meeting. They said the meeting focused on ways of improving Armenia’s problematic business environment.