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Construction of a new nuclear power plant: who will be Armenia’s energy partner?

Armenia plans to build a new nuclear power plant by 2036. Which country will be the energy partner for this project is not yet clear. Cooperation with Russia, the USA and other countries is being discussed. According to the prime minister, the government is studying proposals to understand “which option is more economically viable.”

In 2022 Armenia and Russia signed an interstate agreement to build a power unit with a capacity of 1000-1200 megawatts. But in professional circles they talk about a preference for small modular reactors, which the United States proposes to build.

The operating life of the Metsamor NPP operating in Armenia expires in 2026. The government plans to extend its life by ten years. For this reason, it is planned to complete the construction of a new nuclear power plant in 2036.

“It will take at least 10 years to build a new nuclear power plant”

According to the Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructures Gnel Sanosyan, there is a lot of work to be done:

“About two years is needed for preparatory work, from 8 to 10 years for construction.”

According to him, it is necessary to understand what capacity the new nuclear power plant should have, and this must be decided by taking into account many factors – not for a short period, but for the next 100 years.

“For example, we must calculate how much electricity we will supply to Iran, whether we will supply it or not, whether we will supply electricity to Georgia. We need to understand what the relations between Armenia and Turkey will be like, whether Turkey will buy electricity from Armenia, because now the eastern regions of Turkey need it,” he said.

According to Sanosyan, it is also necessary to calculate volumes of local consumption to find out what kind of dependence on nuclear power plants is entailed.

Main offers – Russian and American

The construction of a new power unit was first discussed with Russia, in particular with the Rosatom corporation. Russian partners have proposed the construction of a power unit with a capacity of 1000 or 1200 megawatts and there are already preliminary estimates of profitability and a working group that deals with preparatory issues.

Recently it became known that the United States is proposing the construction of small modular reactors. This proposal has not yet been studied from a technical point of view, it may take several months. The Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructures assured that by the end of the year the Armenian government would “decide on the issue of capacity.”

UN National Energy Expert in Armenia Ara Marjanyan recalls that, according to the agreement signed with Russia in 2022, it is planned to develop a roadmap within a year to determine the type of reactor and technical parameters.

“Construction will begin at the end of 2024 – beginning of 2025. The construction of a nuclear power unit will cost about 3-5 billion dollars. I think that these are reasonable expenses, Armenia needs to constantly have nuclear generation on its territory,” he told reporters.

“In the near future a delegation from Armenia will travel to the United States to learn more about the possibilities of modular nuclear power plants on site,” the Prime Minister of Armenia said at the end of May.

Pashinyan said that the capacity of modular NPPs is less, for example 70 megawatts, while the capacity of the current one is 400 megawatts:

“Other proposals are problematic for us because they offer a 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plant. And experts say that we have problems with the inclusion of such a powerful station in our energy system.”

According to him, the government intends to develop the nuclear potential of Armenia and “is very actively negotiating with Russia, the United States and third countries.”

The details of the negotiations with the Americans were announced by the Armenian government only after the statement of the representative of the US State Department Maria Longi in the Congress.

“In a number of countries, including Armenia, we are considering the possibility of building small modular nuclear reactors using American technology. This can contribute to energy independence from both Russia and China,” she said.

A comment

Suren Bznuni, a specialist in nuclear and radiation safety, considers the existence of an “economic justification” and safety issues to be the most important condition for the construction of a nuclear power plant.

He says that it is necessary to build a safe and economically profitable reactor, regardless of whether it is Russian or American. A nuclear power plant with a capacity of 1,000 or more megawatts, in his opinion, will be problematic for Armenia in terms of grid stability.

“Discussing the issue with experts, we came to the conclusion that we need a nuclear power plant with approximately the same capacity as we have now. Large reactors are not attractive from the point of view of high cost, as well as from the point of view of obtaining a large amount of electricity in the future,” he opined.

Small modular reactors, according to Bznuni, can be built as much as there is demand at the moment:

“A high-capacity reactor costs $6 billion, usually during construction costs increase, reaching up to $7 billion. In some countries, the amount has doubled. And the modular reactor costs $500 million, which is quite an acceptable amount for Armenia.”

Energy security expert Artur Avetisyan claims that small modular reactors have an “unprecedented high degree of safety.” And the advantages of such reactors have already been convinced both in the USA and Great Britain, France and other countries.

Avetisyan talks about the political motivation for building a new nuclear power plant. According to him, it consists in joining global energy projects. And with this in mind, the new nuclear power plant should be more powerful than the current one, which will allow Armenia to “have a dominant position in the region”:

“For example, in the northern regions of Iran there is a fairly large demand for electricity in summer, in the southern regions of the Russian Federation – in winter. Buying this electricity in Armenia is more profitable than building new stations.”

Avetisyan does not exclude even the implementation of ambitious projects in the future. For example, he considers it possible to supply electricity produced in Armenia to Europe via cables along the bottom of the Black Sea:

“If we say, let’s build a small nuclear power plant, a big one is not for us, this already means that we are saying to our society: we are a small player, we cannot pretend to be a serious player.”

Source: JAM News