By Shakeh Avoyan The Armenian and Russian governments set up on April 22 a joint venture that will explore and possibly develop untapped uranium reserves in Armenia's southeastern Syunik region. "The new joint venture will explore and ascertain our uranium reserves," Armenian Environment Minister Aram Harutiunian said after signing a relevant agreement in Yerevan with Russia's state-owned Atomredmetzoloto company, which mines and processes uranium.
In accordance that agreement, the Russian firm will have a 50 percent stake in the venture and invest about $3 million in exploratory work to be conducted in Syunik during the first year of operations. The mountainous region bordering Iran was explored by Soviet geologists in the 1950s-70s and is estimated to contain 30,000 metric tons of uranium ore. Harutiunian said earlier this month that the Russian government will turn over to Yerevan classified Soviet-era data on the precise location and size of potential uranium deposits in the area.
An agreement on a more extensive Russian-Armenian exploration of those deposits was reached during an April 2007 visit to Yerevan by Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Russia's Federal Agency on Atomic Energy (Rosatom). He was confident that Armenian and Russian specialists will discover commercially viable amounts of the radioactive metal used in nuclear power generation.
Kiriyenko said Armenia could become one of the few countries of the world with a full uranium production cycle from extraction of the metal to its transformation into nuclear fuel. Some of that fuel would be supplied to the nuclear power station at Metsamor, he added at the time. The Soviet-era plant generates approximately 40 percent of Armenia's electricity.
The Armenian government intends to replace Metsamor's sole functioning reactor with a more modern and twice as powerful facility before its anticipated deactivation in 2016. Russian energy companies have expressed strong interest in the construction of a new nuclear plant and, according to Kiriyenko, are well placed to win an international tender for the project to be called by the Yerevan government.
Both Harutiunian and Atomredmetzoloto's executive director, Vadim Zhivov, stressed that the Russian-Armenian joint venture will concentrate on ascertaining just how rich Armenia is rich in uranium and has no plans for mining operations for the time being. Zhivov said Russian investments will rise to "tens of millions of dollars" if the exploratory work lives up to Atomredmetzoloto's expectations.
A U.S. company, Global Gold, has been prospecting for uranium in another Armenian region for the past two years.