A U.S. State Department official says Washington hopes American companies will participate in the construction of a new nuclear power station in Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Daniel Rosenblum, who coordinates U.S. government assistance to former communist countries, said the issue was discussed on November 15 at a regular meeting in Yerevan of the U.S.-Armenia Joint Economic Task Force, which he co-chairs with Armenian Economy Minister Nerses Yeritsian.
"We are interested in having U.S. companies participate [in the nuclear project], if possible," Rosenblum said at a news conference after the meeting. "It's one of many energy-related issues that were on the agenda."
The Armenian government plans to decommission a Soviet-built nuclear plant at Metsamor, which generates about 40 percent of the country's electricity, and build a new facility in its place in the coming years.
Chances for the implementation of the extremely ambitious project increased in late August with the signing of a Russian-Armenian agreement on "technical and financial cooperation" of the plant's construction.
Russian energy officials said Moscow could provide up to one-fifth of an estimated $5 billion in investment needed for the new plant. Yerevan has yet to secure other sources of funding.
The Russian and Armenian governments set up late last year a joint venture tasked with building the plant's reactor. Armenian officials said other plant facilities might well be built by or receive equipment from Western nuclear-energy firms. They said equipment suppliers will be chosen in international tenders.
"We have worked for many years very closely with the Armenian government, with the nuclear industry here on the safe use of nuclear power and also on issues concerning proliferation of nuclear materials, and we will continue that joint work with the government," Rosenblum said. "But at the same time, when there are private-sector opportunities, we would like to promote them."
The U.S. government allocated in late 2007 some $2 million for a feasibility study on the new nuclear power plant.
"We look forward to the rapid replacement of the Metsamor facility with a more modern and safer plant," a senior U.S. diplomat in Yerevan said at the time.
The United States as well as the European Union have spent much larger sums on wide-ranging safety measures at the Metsamor plant since its reactivation in 1995. The plant was due to be decommissioned by 2017.
But Ashot Martirosian, the head of Armenia's State Committee on Nuclear Safety, told RFE/RL in August that the shutdown is likely to be delayed by several years because the new plant's construction will last longer than was anticipated by the government.
The Armenian Economy Ministry and the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan made no mention of the nuclear project in separate statements about the U.S.-Armenia Joint Economic Task Force meeting on November 15. They said the meeting focused on ways of improving Armenia's business environment.
Rosenblum also met on November 15 with former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, the leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK). A statement by the HAK said they discussed a wide range of issues, including the socioeconomic situation, government corruption, and the conduct of elections in Armenia. It said Ter-Petrossian stressed the importance of a "rapid" release of his supporters who are still jailed.
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