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The most evident result of Armenian president Robert Kocharian’s last week visit to Belgium is the agreements reached during his meetings with senior European Union’s officials, as well as during Armenian energy minister Karen Galustian’s meetings with officials from Tractable company and EU Union of Nuclear Energy Producers Foratom.

From indirect hints of Mr. Galustian one could conclude that the original date, 2004, set by the EU for Armenia to decompress its nuclear power station was most probably prolonged. The issue of replacing the nuclear energy by alternative energy sources and making investments was another topic of discussions between Armenian energy minister and EU officials. The strategic plan of privatization of Armenian energy distributing networks was presented to Belgian Tractabel company which seemed to take interest in it.

It is well known that the EU experts has been insisting for several years on closure of the Metsamor nuclear power plant on grounds that the Soviet-built station does not correspond to international safety standards. The press often mentioned 2004 as a possible date for closure of the station. Galustian said that the EU reiterated its concerns over the further safe exploitation of the station, but without mentioning concrete dates. Instead, the issue of replacing the station by alternative sources of energy is being widely discussed.

Galustian said that Foratom, which is actually a public organization, uniting Europe’s nuclear energy producers, has agreed to check the state of Metsamor station and present a consequent report. According to the minister, all this work would require huge investments and the European Commission has agreed to allocate $100 million to the Fund that will be supposed to be formed to investigate alternative sources of energy. That would be the beginning and other donors may later join it. Galustian said that a meeting of potential investors in this project would be convened soon. According to Galustian’s estimates, a total of $1.4 billion in investments will be required up to 2010. The government plans to realize this project by involving its own energy resources and also involve other resources. Particularly, the EU has been supporting construction of Iran-Armenia gas pipeline and the first step towards its realization, drafting of legislation for the formation of an international consortium, is being taken now. The EU is also willing to provide funds for building gas reservoirs. As neither the government nor the banks are able to fund this project, the government emphasis the issue of seeking potential strategic investors.

As regards other results of the Belgium meetings, it was decided to hold an Armenia Investor conference this autumn under the sponsorship of the EU, like the one held recently in New York. Also an international high technology conference is expected to be held in Yerevan this autumn, which will be the first step towards turning Armenia into the regional hi-tech center.

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