Russia's Rosatom negotiates nuclear waste treatment with Armenia's Metsamor plant

By bne IntelliNews May 31, 2016

Russia's state-owned nuclear company Rosatom said that it is “ready to assume” the maintenance of nuclear waste generated from Armenia's Metsamor plant, Armenpress reported on May 30. “Based on international contracts on handling used nuclear fuel, this has to be returned to the country of production. We can recycle and refine [nuclear] waste from Armenia,” Rosatom representative Oleg Kruykov reportedly said, adding that Rosatom was negotiating with Metsamor about nuclear waste handling.

How to handle nuclear waste, particularly the spent fuel rods that remain radioactive for thousands of years after their useful life ends, is a problem with nuclear power plants everywhere. However, Armenia's Metsamor plant has several other aggravating risk factors, which include the plant's age of over 30 years and the fact that it is located in a seismic zone. Most experts have urged Yerevan to shut down the plant because it poses a risk to the whole region, but instead authorities have decided to rehabilitate the plant with a $300mn loan and grant from Russia.

Metsamor supplies some 40% of Armenia's electricity. Without it, tariffs would increase, and electricity tariff hikes are very unpopular in the Caucasian country. In 2015, a 16.7% increase in electricity tariffs prompted people to stage the worst protests in over a decade in month-long demonstrations that were coined "Electric Yerevan".

In recent months, Azerbaijan, Armenia's neighbour and rival, has been complaining about the risks posed by the Metsamor nuclear plant to its own safety. Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in a decade-long conflict over a disputed region, Nagorno-Karabakh. Some critics from Azerbaijan, such as Goksel Gulbey, chairman of an anti-Armenian association, have gone so far so as to suggest that Armenia is holding Azerbaijani citizens hostages at the power plant.    

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