Armenia has signed an agreement with Russia to join the international uranium enrichment centre to be set up in Siberia. The two countries have also agreed to set up a joint venture for uranium exploration.
The agreement to join the enrichment centre was signed by the prime ministers of the two countries, Victor Zubkov and Serzh Sarkisyan, during a visit by Zubkov to the Armenian capital Yerevan. Armenia now joins Kazakhstan and Russia in the venture to set up a shared enrichment centre at Russia's existing Angarsk plant. Ukraine has also expressed interest in signing up.
The international centre is seen as a first step towards an internationalized nuclear fuel cycle and possible nuclear fuel 'bank', which would contribute to non-proliferation aims by ensuring security of supply of nuclear fuel without countries needing to establish their own fuel production facilities.
The two countries also signed a memorandum to set up a 50:50 Russian-Armenian joint venture to explore for uranium and other minerals in Armenia, with prospecting activities due to begin in September 2008.
Speaking after the prime ministerial talks, Sergei Kiryenko, head of Russian state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom also told reporters that Russia would be the likely winners of a tender for the construction of a new 1000 MWe nuclear power plant on the site of Armenia's existing Metsamor plant. Kiriyenko said the government of Armenia would announce a tender for the construction of new nuclear power plant, adding modestly: "We are going to take part in it and we have quite good chances to win."
The Metsamor power station originally hosted two nuclear units. Both were closed down after a severe earthquake in 1988 triggered concerns about their seismic vulnerability. One unit is now undergoing decommissioning but the other restarted operations in 1995 and is earmarked for closure around 2016. Armenia relies on Metsamor for over 40% of its electricity and in November 2007 the USA also signalled its support for nuclear new build in the country, pledging a reported $2 million towards planning studies.