Russia and Armenia have signed an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in extending the operating life of unit 2 of Armenia's sole nuclear power plant.

The VVER-440 unit - which operates at Metsamor, 30 km from the capital Yerevan - is due to be withdrawn from service in September 2016.

The agreement was signed on 20 December by Rosatom director general Sergey Kirienko and Armenia's energy minister Yervand Zakharyan, Rosatom said yesterday. It will lead to the issuance of a licence to extend the service life of the unit by ten years, until September 2026.

Rosatom specialists have conducted a preliminary examination of the unit and will produce a comprehensive report before the end of the first quarter of 2015, Rosatom said. Following that report, a training program will ensue. An application for the life extension licence will follow, in September 2016. Upgrade work at the unit is expected to be completed by 2019.

The work is to be funded by a Russian state loan.

Two model V-230 reactors, each of 407 MWe gross (376 MWe net), were built at Metsamor on solid basalt and supplied power from 1976 and 1980 respectively. The 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 and 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 being shut down for more than six years. Since then the International Atomic Energy Agency has been participating in safety improvements at the plant. 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.

In June 2014 the Public Services Regulatory Commission of Armenia extended the generating licence of the unit to mid-2019, though the reactor operating licence only runs to 2016.

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 investors. 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.

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 it. Construction was to commence in 2013 and was expected to cost $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.
Source: World Nuclear News