ANKARA: Armenia clears way for new nuke plant

Hurriyet, Turkey
Jan 7 2010

Armenia clears way for new nuke plant

Thursday, January 7, 2010
YEREVAN ` Daily News with wires

Armenia cleared the way for a new nuclear power plant, despite green
groups’ objections that its location could put the capital, Yerevan,
at risk. Earlier this month, the government approved the creation of
Atomstroyexport, a Russian company that will own the station.

`Today we are making a political decision, we are giving our agreement
to the creation of a joint venture with our Russian partners,’ said
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian on Dec. 3. Armenia plans to finish the
new generating unit by 2016, and it will replace the Metsamor plant,
which produces 40 percent of the country’s power but is nearing the
end of its life. Without the nuclear plant, Armenia would be largely
dependent on gas imported from Russia or Iran.

`The new nuclear power station will secure Armenia in terms of its
energy system. A nuclear reactor is necessary as an energy resource
that can ensure the self-sufficiency of the country,’ said Sevak
Sarukhanyan, an economist and deputy director of the Noravank think
tank. Sarkisian said the new station was crucial to efforts to revive
Armenia’s economy, which has suffered both from the post-Soviet
collapse and the blockade imposed by Azerbaijan and Turkey. `If we do
not build the nuclear power station now, of course, our competitive
position will significantly worsen,’ he said.

The construction of the plant will take five or six years, and it
should have a working life of 60 years, which will guarantee Armenia’s
electricity supply for long into the future. Ecological groups,
however, remain strongly opposed to the plans. Hakob Manasaryan, head
of the Union of Greens, said the government did not explore other
energy options in its rush to approve a new nuclear plant. He worried
that Armenia, which is prone to earthquakes, could see a disaster such
as the one that struck Ukraine’s Chernobyl reactor 23 years ago.

`I have the impression that the officials are thinking only of the
next 15 or 20 years. A new structure, with a capacity of 1,200
megawatts should be at least 100 to 150 kilometers from big cities.
The existing Metsamor station, located just 20 km in a straight line
from the capital, does not even meet this condition,’ he said. `There
is not one safe working reactor. Of course it is good if it is
super-modern, which means, it is less dangerous, but who can vouch for
that? And with a capacity of 1,200 megawatts, the consequences of the
risk could be more significant. The construction of a new reactor in
the same place [as the Metsamor plant] is even more dangerous.’

But Areg Galstyan, deputy energy and natural resources minister, said
new reactors were built to far higher safety standards than
Chernobyl-type nuclear power stations, mentioning that the ecologists
had nothing to worry about. The Metsamor power station sits in the
Ararat Valley, in the very heart of Armenia, and is surrounded by the
towns of Armavir, Echmiadzin and Metsamor. Its first unit started
producing power in 1976, and the second in 1980.

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