Armenia is discussing with Russia the possible construction of a new nuclear power plant, Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure Suren Papikyan told parliament on 15 April. "We plan to have a new nuclear power plant and are already negotiating this issue with partners from Russia. We also have proposals from other countries," Papikyan said, adding that currently one of his deputies and the director of the Armenian NPP were visiting Russia. He stressed that Armenia is studying the experience of construction and operation of nuclear power plants in other countries and is ready to discuss beneficial proposals.
Meanwhile, Rosatom is continuing upgrading work at unit 2 of the Armenian NPP in Metsamor. Papikyan said existing contracts with Russia on this project total $40 million. The Armenian NPP, with two Soviet-supplied VVER-440-V230 units was built in the 1970s but was closed following a devastating earthquake in 1988. However, unit 2 was recommissioned with Russian help in 1995 in face of severe energy shortages. In March 2014, the Armenian government decided to extend the plant’s service life up to 2026.
The work, now underway, was supported by a Russian loan and grant. The NPP currently accounts for 39% of Armenia's total electricity generation. The plant is currently shut down for an extended scheduled outage of 114 days. ““The fact that the operation of the NPP will be stopped for such a long period is not the fault of our government. The reason is that the construction work is at a stage where the operation of the reactor is impossible,” explained Papikyan.
Although construction of a new NPP is part of Armenia’s overall plan, finance has been a problem, with Armenia unable to attract private investors. In addition, in the past Armenia met opposition to its plans from both Turkey and Azerbaijan. However, as Turkey is now building its own plant and Azerbaijan is considering building a NPP, such opposition is now less of an issue. Moreover, Russia’s decision to build Turkey’s plant on a build-own-operate basis could prove to be a useful precedent.
Earlier in April, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Vladimir Putin, during a meeting in Moscow, discussed the prospect of Russia's participation in the construction of a new nuclear power plant in Armenia – the first acknowledged high level talks on this possibility. Russian Ambassador to Armenia Sergei Kopyrkin confirmed in an interview with Sputnik Armenia on 12 April that discussions were underway on the proposal to build a new nuclear power plant. According to Sputnik Armenia: “If this issue was discussed at the level of heads of state before, then there were no official reports about it. Since, this time, the parties are already talking about the upcoming partnership publicly, it can be assumed that there is already a fundamental decision on this score.”
The issue is becoming pressing as the life extension of the Metsamor plant is until 2036 after which it will have to be closed and for Armenia there is no alternative to nuclear energy as the previous closure of the plant clearly showed. The plant currently generates half of Armenia’s electricity. Construction of a replacement plant would need to begin at least by 2026.