EU is freezing 100m euros of aid to Armenia after refusal to shut down its nuclear plant.

Publish date: June 23, 2004

"Our position of principle is that nuclear power plants should not be built in highly active seismic zones."

It was said by Alexis Loeber, head of the EU’s delegation in Armenia, BBC reported. The European Union, as part of its general policy seeking the closure of elderly nuclear plants constructed in territories of the former Soviet Union, agreed to give the grant aid ($122m) to Armenia for finding alternative energy sources and for helping with decommissioning costs at the plant. In return, the government in Yerevan would commit to a definite date for the plant’s closure. “We cannot force Armenia to close the plant,” says the EU’s Mr Loeber. “We feel that should definitely be well in advance of the end of Metsamor’s design lifecycle in 2016.” The Metsamor plant has no secondary containment facilities, a safety requirement of all modern reactors, BBC reported.

Another concern is that due to border and railway closures with surrounding territories, nuclear material to feed the plant is flown into Armenia from Russia. “It is the same as flying around a potential nuclear bomb,” says Mr Loeber. “It’s an extremely hazardous exercise.” Areg Galstyan, the country’s deputy minister of power, says $50m has been spent on upgrading safety at Metsamor. “It was a big mistake to shut the plant in 1988,” says Mr Galstyan. “It created an energy crisis and the people and economy suffered. Electricity industry specialists say that due to the expansion and updating of existing thermal and hydro-energy plants, the country has become an electricity exporter in recent years. A major new power source will come on stream in 2006 when a pipeline supplying gas from neighbouring Iran is due to be completed, BBC reported.

At the same time PACE prepared four documents urging to close the station. Despite some calls of international organizations to close the station, the Armenian government did not respond to them. European Union many times suggested Armenia to close Metsamor but Armenia rejected them. As a result, European Union had to impose an economic sanction on Armenia by refusing to allocate $100 million. the

Armenian Trade Minister Chshmaritian reiterated Yerevan’s rejection of the offer, saying that as much as $1 billion is needed for safely shutting down Metsamor safely and putting in place an alternative source of inexpensive energy. He added the Armenia-EU body decided to set up a working group that will look into the issue in detail and present its findings by the end of this year, Baku Today reports.

The Metsamor Nuclear Power plant produced 1.9 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2003, or 36 percent of the total generation of electricity in Armenia. ZAO Inter RAO UES, a subsidiary of Russia’s Unified Energy System, and Armenia signed a contract in September 2003 to hand over trust management of the plant to Inter RAO UES.