YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–In the most explicit endorsement yet of Armenia’s plans to build a new nuclear plant, the United States pledged on Wednesday to help the Armenian government conduct feasibility studies needed for the implementation of the multimillion-dollar project.
The government reaffirmed earlier this year its intention to replace the Soviet-built nuclear power station at Metsamor, which is due to be decommissioned by 2016, by a new, modern facility meeting Western safety standards. "I think that as early as in 2012-2013 active work will be implemented for a new nuclear power plant," President Robert Kocharian said in April.
Joseph Pennington, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan, said Washington, which has long been pressing for the closure of Metsamor’s sole reactor, supports the ambitious idea and will help Yerevan put it into practice.
"The U.S. government supports the building of a new plant not only to improve Armenia’s energy security but also because of continuing concerns regarding the safety of the existing nuclear plant," Pennington said. "We look forward to the rapid replacement of the Metsamor facility with a more modern and safer plant."
The diplomat spoke as he signed a memorandum of U.S.-Armenian cooperation on the issue with Energy Minister Armen Movsisian. The document envisages that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Armenian government will work together in preparing a feasibility study for the project and an assessment of the new plant’s impact on environment.
"This is an enormously complex and challenging task. But today’s gathering here marks the first significant step in that process," Pennington said. The US government will spend $2 million on financing the planned studies, he added.
"The results of these studies will be used by the Armenian government to choose the best technical solutions and project logistics," the USAID said in a separate statement. "They will also serve as a basis for negotiations with potential suppliers and international financing institutions."
The Armenian government is already looking for foreign investors interested in financing the project estimated to cost at least $1 billion. A top executive of a Russian atomic energy firm said last month that it is already discussing with Yerevan the possibility of building a new 100 Megawatt nuclear reactor at Metsamor. The matter is also being discussed by a special working group formed by a Russian-Armenian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation.
Movsisian did not divulge any details of these talks as he spoke to journalists after the signing ceremony. He said only that the new Armenian reactor will be built at the site of the existing one and that construction work will take between five and seven years. "We will make the most of Metsamor’s existing infrastructure for building a new unit," he said.
Pennington, for his part, said the U.S. government will help Armenia find investors but is unlikely to finance the plant’s construction.