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Russian Utility Wants To Stop Managing Armenian Nuclear Plant

The Metsamor power plant near the Armenian capital, Yerevan.
The Metsamor power plant near the Armenian capital, Yerevan.
YEREVAN -- A subsidiary of Russia's state-controlled national electricity company has confirmed plans to end its eight-year management of Armenia's Metsamor nuclear power station, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The RAO Unified Energy Systems (UES) was granted control of Metsamor's finances as well as ownership of five Armenian hydroelectric plants in 2003 in return for repaying the Soviet-era facility's $40 million debt to Russian nuclear-fuel suppliers.

Since then, UES has controlled the nuclear plant's cash flows through its Inter RAO subsidiary.

The latter's five-year management contract with the Armenian government was prolonged in 2008 and is due to expire in 2013.

The Moscow daily "Kommersant" reported on November 24 that Inter RAO is no longer happy with the terms of the deal and would like to terminate it now.

The paper quoted an unnamed company source as attributing this to "drastically increased risks" in nuclear energy.

Metsamor, which is about 30 kilometers west of Yerevan, is one of the few nuclear power stations that has reactors which do not have primary containment structures.

Active Earthquake Zone

Both the United States and the European Union have long urged Armenian officials to close Metsamor, which was built in the 1970s in an active earthquake zone.

Nikolay Gorelov, an Inter RAO spokesman, confirmed the information about RAO's desire to end its management of the power plant.

He said the company has already offered several other firms, notably Russia's Rosatom nuclear corporation, to take over management at Metsamor.

"I would say that these negotiations [with Rosatom] have not even started," Gorelov told RFE/RL. "Therefore, it's hard to talk about that for now."

He said "there is a desire [to end Metsamor's management] but whether or not we will manage to do that is not yet clear."

Rosatom spokesman Sergei Novikov told RFE/RL that the state-owned corporation will consider running Metsamor only at the Armenian government's request. "As far as I know, so far there has been no such request from the Armenian government," he said. "Therefore, there is nothing we can talk about."

The Armenian Energy and Natural Resources Ministry declined to comment on the issue.

Staff Unrest

According to "Kommersant," Rosatom is far more interested in participating in the Armenian government's ambitious project to replace Metsamor's existing reactor with a more modern facility meeting international safety standards.

Rosatom and the Armenian Energy and Natural Resources Ministry set up a joint venture in late 2009, which was tasked with building the new reactor.

The new reactor is supposed to be more than twice as powerful as the current reactor, which generates roughly 40 percent of Armenia's electricity.

The Metsamor management was faced last month with a walkout of more than one-third of the plant's 450-strong staff demanding better pay.

Most of those employees agreed to return to work after accepting a 10 percent raise from the government. Inter RAO appears to have had no involvement in the settlement of the dispute.

Inter RAO is also the owner of Armenia's national power utility. Another Russian energy giant, Gazprom, has a controlling stake in Armenia's gas-distribution network.

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