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Armenian Nuclear Plant Workers Demand Better Pay

The Metsamor nuclear plant, outside the Armenian capital Yerevan.
The Metsamor nuclear plant, outside the Armenian capital Yerevan.
YEREVAN -- More than 140 workers at Armenia's nuclear power station at Metsamor have threatened to quit their jobs if their wages are not raised, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Metsamor Director Ashot Markosian told RFE/RL on September 23 that each worker has sent him a letter with such a threat.

He would not say if the demands will be accepted. He said that the plant currently lacks the funds for a salary increase.

According to Markosian's estimates, the average monthly wage of those demanding a pay raise is 277,500 drams ($750), more than twice the national average.

Metsamor, which generates about 40 percent of Armenia's electricity, employs more than 1,700 people. They earn between 145,000 and 443,000 drams a month.

Asked how important the 143 employees threatening to quit are to the plant's day-to-day operations, Markosian said "there are no unimportant people at the nuclear plant. All of our employees can affect its safe [operation] in one way or another."

Both Markosian and the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry said the workers' threats have not affected Metsamor's operational safety.

"Even for those [employees] it's still business as usual," ministry spokeswoman Lusine Harutiunian told RFE/RL.

Metsamor's sole functioning reactor was brought to a halt on September 5 for regular repairs and partial refueling. It is due to be relaunched by the end of October.

The U.S. government has pledged to decommission the plant by 2017, in time for the construction of a more powerful nuclear facility. Work on that project is supposed to start in 2012.

However, officials said last year that the construction could be delayed by several years, suggesting that the existing Metsamor reactor will function longer than planned.

International nuclear safety experts working under the aegis of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspected Metsamor in late May.

They concluded that the plant poses an "acceptable" level of risk to the environment and could, in principle, operate beyond the life span of its design.