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Nuclear Power in Armenia

(Updated August 2014)

  • Armenia has relied heavily on nuclear power since 1976.
  • It has one reactor in operation and the government has approved a joint venture to build another by 2023.

Although Armenia has only one operating nuclear reactor, this unit supplied 33% of the total electricity produced in 2011 – 2.4 billion kWh net. Of the 5.67 billion kWh gross generation in 2009, nuclear supplied 44%, hydro 36% and gas 20%. Electricity consumption per capita is about 1800 kWh/yr. Natural gas, which is imported from Russia, is its main source of primary energy.

The country is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States and has a population of 3.25 million.

Operating and planned nuclear power reactors in Armenia

Reactor Type Net capacity Status First power Plan close
Armenia 2
VVER-440
376 MWe
Operating
1980
2026
Armenia 3
VVER-1000
1060 MWe
Planned
Expected 2026
 
Total operating (1)
 
376 MWe
     

Nuclear power

One Russian VVER-440 nuclear power plant operates at Metsamora, 30 km from the capital Yerevan.

Two model V-230 reactors, each of 407.5 MWe gross (376 MWe net), were built at Metsamor on solid basalt and supplied power from 1976 and 1980 respectively. Design life was 30 years. These were the first Russian plants designed to be built in a region of high seismicity and were modified accordingly to be designated V-270. Plans for units 3&4 at the site were abandoned after the 1986 Chernobyl accident.

In December 1988, a powerful earthquake, resulting in the deaths of at least 25,000 people, occurred in northwestern Armenia. The Metsamor nuclear power plant 75 km from the epicentre continued operating normally with no damage, but both units were subsequently shut down in 1989 due to safety concerns regarding seismic vulnerability.

Unit 1, after 13 years operation, is now being decommissioned. In 1993, it was decided to restart the second unit due to the severe economic crisis and this was achieved in 1995, after 6.5 years shutdown. Since then the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been participating in safety improvements at the plant, which was scheduled to close in 2016 but will now continue until the new unit is commissionedb. In September 2013 Russia announced an agreement to extend the life of the plant by ten years, and in May 2014 Russia agreed to a $300 million loan for upgrading the plant to enable life extension to 2026. To effect this, the plant will be shut down for six months in 2017 to undertake major works.

All fuel is supplied by Russia, but this incurred significant foreign debt – some $40 million. As a result, the plant has been operated by a subsidiary of RAO UES and Rosenergoatom since 2003, as part of an arrangement to help pay off those debts to TVEL. This agreement, now with Inter-RAO, was extended by five years in 2008.

The present Metsamor plant is a concern to the European Union (EU) and to neighbouring Turkey, 16 km away. There have been various calls to shut it down before 2016, but Armenia is very dependent on it and has said that it will remain open until a replacement is commissioned. According to a 1999 agreement with the EU,c Armenia would close the plant before the end of its design lifetime, provided that alternative replacement capacity is available. The EU undertook 'stress tests' on it in April 2012, following those in Europe. In October 2012 the government confirmed approval for a 10-year life extension, and reiterated this in March 2014, while it sought the money to build a new one. 

In June 2014 the Public Services Regulatory Commission of Armenia (PSRC) extended the generating licence to mid-2019, though the reactor operating licence only runs to 2016. In August 2014 it was announced that a $300 million upgrade of the plant would commence in 2017 in order to extend its life to 2026.

New nuclear plant

In 2007, Armenia adopted a new energy strategy focusing on security of supply through diversification and the use of nuclear energy as well as renewable energy sources. Later in 2007, the energy minister announced a feasibility study for a new unit at Metsamor, the investigation being carried out with assistance from Russia, the USA and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The new plant was then expected to go on line about 2016.

In February 2009, the government announced a tender for a new 1000 MWe unit, the Armenia New Nuclear Unit (ANNU). In May 2009, Australian company Worley Parsons was chosen to administer the project, and a $460 million management contract was signed in June. Legislation providing for construction of up to 1200 MWe of new nuclear capacity at Metsamor from one or more reactors was passed in June 2009.

In December 2009, the government approved establishment of Metzamorenergoatom, a 50-50 Russian-Armenian joint stock company set up by the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources with Atomstroyexport, with shares offered to other investors1. This is to build a 1060 MWe AES-92 unit (with a VVER-1000 model V-392 reactor) with a service life of 60 years at Metsamor. It would have two natural-draft cooling towers. In March 2010 an agreement was signed with Rosatom to provide the V-392 reactor equipment for it. In March 2011 the environmental assessment report was presented to the Ministry of Nature Protection, and the October 2012 Revision 1 following public consultation is available.

In August 2010, an intergovernmental agreement was signed to provide that the Russian party will build at least one VVER-1000 reactor, supply nuclear fuel for it and decommission it2. Construction was to commence in 2013 and was expected to cost US$5 billion. The customer and owner of new reactors, as well as electricity generated, will be Metzamorenergoatom, and Atomstroyexport will be the principal contractor. Armenia undertakes to buy all electricity produced at commercial rates, enabling investors' return on capital, for 20 years. CJSC Metzamorenergoatom is to fund not less than 40% of the construction, and early in 2012 Russia agreed to finance 50%, though in late 2013 this was reported as 35%. In July 2014 the energy minister said that Russia was expected to provide plant worth $4.5 billion out of the total $5 billion.

In May 2014 the government approved construction of the new reactor, starting 2018.

Fuel cycle

The government has signed an agreement to become a partner in the international uranium enrichment centre at Angarsk in Siberia, under Russian leadership and IAEA supervision, from 2013.3 Kazakhstan is also a partner in it.

Russia's Atomredmetzoloto (ARMZ) is participating in a 50-50 joint venture Armenian-Russian Mining Company set up in 2008 to explore for uranium in Armenia4. This is at least expected to provide for the country's domestic needs, and export of surplus is a hope.

Regulation

In 1993, the Armenian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (ANRA) was established as regulator. 

Also in 1993, the government established a new body under the Ministry of Energy to operate the plant, and in 1996 this was taken over by Armenian NPP (ANPP) joint stock company. At the same time, the Department of Atomic Energy was established within the Ministry of Energy.

Armenia has been a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency since 1993, and of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) since 1996.

Non proliferation

Armenia has been a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty since 1993, and in 1997 signed the Additional Protocol on its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. It has been party to the Vienna Convention on civil liability for nuclear damage since 1993.


Further Information 

Notes

a. The Metsamor – or Metzamor – Nuclear Power Plant (MNPP) is often referred to as the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant (ANPP) [Back]

b. The reactor commenced operation in 1980 and has a design lifetime of 30 years. Taking into account the period between 1989 and 1995 when the unit was offline, this would imply that it would reach the end of its design lifetime by 2016. However, early in 2012 it was confirmed that this would be extended until after the new unit is commissioned. [Back]

c. A Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between Armenia and the European Union (EU) entered into force in 1999 and the EU-Armenia European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) Action Plan was adopted in November 2006 for a period of five years. [Back]

References

1. Armenia and Russia to set up joint venture to deal with construction of new unit for Metsamor nuclear power plant, ARKA News Agency, (3 December 2009) [Back]

2. Russia, Armenia seal agreement on cooperation in nuclear unit construction, ARKA News Agency, (21 August 2010); Yerevan Hails Russia’s Participation in NPP Construction In Armenia, ARKA News Agency, (25 August 2010) [Back]

3. Armenia signs up to enrichment centre, World Nuclear News (8 February 2008) [Back]

4. Russia signs up with Armenia, Namibia next, World Nuclear News (22 April 2008) [Back]

General sources

International Atomic Energy Agency, Country Nuclear Power Profiles: Armenia