Re-operation of Armenian Nuclear Power Plant

Following the 1989 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the devastating earthquake of 1988, the Government of the Armenian SSR under certain pressure from democratic forces decided to mothball the Armenian nuclear power plant. Three years later, as a result of the Artsakh war and the total blockade of Armenia by Azerbaijan and Turkey, the country plunged into a severe energy crisis, making it obvious that it would hardly be possible to overcome it without re-operation of the nuclear power plant.

On April 7, 1993, the Armenian government adopted a decision on resuming the operation of the unit 2 of the Armenian NPP. The task was not an easy one: there were no precedents of “resuscitation” of nuclear power plants in the world.

The importance of the Armenian NPP decommissioning program was evidenced by President Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s address to the nation on the eve of the New Year of 1994, where he highlighted the three most important tasks the authorities faced: the peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict, the adoption of the Constitution and the decommissioning of the NPP.



Construction of the Armenian or Metsamor NPP began in 1970 and was completed in 1979. In the period preceding the collapse of the USSR, electricity production in Armenia was brought to about 15 billion kWh, of which 65 percent was produced by thermal power plant, 27 percent by nuclear power plant, and the remaining 8 percent by hydro power plant.

Since 1977, 15-20 percent of the electricity produced was exported to neighboring republics and Turkey. Thus, the republic, not rich in own energy resources and not having appropriate natural conditions, turned into an electricity exporter. As a consequence, a deceptive opinion was created that Armenia had a surplus of electricity, while in reality about 4 million tons of fuel were imported to Armenia annually for its production, the cost of which, according to international prices of the early 1990s, exceeded $200 million.



It was obvious that Armenia would not be able to start up the plant without assistance from outside. Active negotiations with Moscow resulted in signing an agreement on the joint decommissioning of the Armenian NPP in March of 1994. Under the agreement, Armenia was obliged not to use the atom for military purposes and not to export the used raw materials to a third country without Russia’s written permission. Transportation and disposal of used raw materials was assumed by the Russian side.

On June 4, 1994, the governments of Russia and Armenia signed an agreement on a state loan with total amount of 110 billion rubles. The Government of Armenia decided to address 60 percent of the total amount of the loan to decommissioning of the Armenian NPP.

The loan was provided until January 1, 1999 with repayment in equal installments over four years. The loan collateral was block of shares in the Armenian NPP and a number of Armenian enterprises, including the Yerevan Brandy Company.



In January 1995, Russia’s State Duma ratified the agreement. The debates preceding the ratification were quite heated.

Vladimir Panskov, Russia’s Minister of Finance, who opened the debate, said that the loan was actually granted to Russian enterprises, since the money would not cross the border of the Russian Federation, but would be used to pay for Russian goods, raw materials and supplies to be delivered to Armenia. Konstantin Zatulin, Chairman of the State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs and Relations with Compatriots, especially advocated for ratification. He urged the deputies to pay attention not only to the economic but also to the political factor of the agreement, saying that Russia does not have many sincere allies in the Caucasus. Eventually, the State Duma overwhelmingly ratified the agreement. Vladimir Shumeyko, Chairman of the Federation Council, said that “by assisting Armenia, we are helping our enterprises, since it is they who will receive orders through these loans, and the restoration of Armenia’s energy sector will be based on Russian technologies.”



On March 31, 1995, the NPP director Suren Azatyan stated that the resumption of the operation of the plant should not be turned into a political show. This statement came following the claims of the opposition that the opening of the NPP was primarily a trump card for the authorities in the run-up to the parliamentary elections.

Prior to the Armenian-Russian negotiations, the West was not happy with the idea of decommissioning. In mid-1994, U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Harry Gilmore said in Los Angeles: “The U.S. Nuclear Energy Committee strongly believes that all Chernobyl-like reactors and even the next generation reactors are unsafe due to not meeting Western standards.” However, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy William White, who was in Armenia in mid-April 1995 on an official visit, said that the republic had no alternative to meet its energy needs in the coming years.



In April 1995, at a meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan, Head of IAEA’s Nuclear Safety Department Maurice Rosen said he was satisfied with the works on ensuring safety of the NPP, adding that he saw no reason to delay the start of the plant’s operation.

The schedule of resuming the operation of the NPP was divided into three stages: preparatory work, physical launch and start of electricity production.



The “physical” opening of the plant took place on June 27, 1995. Since it was about a week before the parliamentary elections scheduled for July 5, it was clear that the event contained a hidden propaganda for the authorities. President of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin I, Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan and many other top officials attended the “physical” opening. Ter-Petrosyan was the one to cut the red ribbon attached to the intersection of the first and second power units of the nuclear power plant.



The nuclear fuel was loaded on June 18, 1995, but due to various technological processes, the Armenian NPP began to produce electricity at the beginning of autumn. By the end of the year, “rolling” blackouts gradually stopped in Armenia, returning people’s lives to normal, at least in terms of ensuring minimum living conditions.

Ara Tadevosyan

Photos of Armenpress and Photolur are used in this chapter.


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