Paying the price of downtime

1 February 2003

The Metsamor plant in Armenia remains idle for lack of fuel, and downtime is costing $3 million a month. The plant accounts for about 40% of Armenia's electricity.

The plant was brought to a halt in October for partial refuelling, maintenance and upgrading. However, no fresh nuclear fuel has been delivered from Russia, which is owed $32 million for previous supplies. Along with the mounting debts, maintenance problems have also been causing disruption. It is believed that installing the necessary safety measures would cost around $1 billion over the rest of the plant's lifetime. Armenia is facing pressure from the European Union to decommission the facility, but the authorities say it can operate safely until 2016.

Armenian energy minister Armen Movsisyan said the station would now be restarted on 23 February. Fuel reserves, which are sufficient for around three months, will have to be used. Then, in early June, the plant will be shut down for a two-month repair and refuelling outage. He claimed that agreement had been reached on payment for a new consignment of fuel, which will be made partly with supplies of electricity and partly in cash. A total of $11 million worth of fuel will be supplied at the end of April, to be loaded in June.

A proposal to turn the management of the plant over to Russia is to be discussed next month.

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