YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—The nuclear disaster in Japan will not deter the Armenian government from building a new nuclear plant in place of the aging facility at Medzamor, Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan said on Wednesday.
“Clearly, new-generation power plants have a higher degree of reliability than the nuclear plant that operated in Japan,” Sarkisian told parliament during his government’s question-and-answer session. “In that sense, the risks will be minimized and there are no dangers involved.”
“Naturally, that means we will go ahead with our plans for the new [nuclear] unit. We will certainly pay greater attention to the safe work of facilities,” he said.
Sargsyan gave no possible time frames for the implementation of the extremely ambitious project estimated to cost as much as $5 billion.
Russian officials have said that Russia’s government and energy companies could foot up to one-fifth of the bill. The Armenian government has yet to indicate other potential sources of funding.
The Russian and Armenian governments set up in late 2009 a joint venture tasked with building the new plant’s reactor. They also signed last August an agreement on “technical and financial cooperation” in the project’s realization.
The Armenian government said in the past that work on the plant will start by 2017. However, a senior nuclear energy official in Yerevan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service last August that it could be delayed by several years.
The new facility would replace the Medzamor nuclear plant that generates about 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity. Local environmentalists and Western governments have long expressed concerns about its safety.
A devastating earthquake and tsunami that caused a series of explosions at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has cast a renewed spotlight on Medzamor’s safety. Armenian ecologists say government should learn a lesson from that emergency and shut down Medzamor. They also believe that Armenia should end its reliance on atomic energy in principle because of being located in a seismically active zone.
Government officials and nuclear experts have dismissed those concerns. Still, Sargsyan announced on Friday that his government has decided to initiate a comprehensive international review of Medzamor’s safety because of the Fukushima accident.