Exploration for uranium ore: Public opinion is ignored again


Interview with the Chairman of Kapan based NGO "Sustainable Development" Armen Parsadanyan.

What provides the Government Decree 234-N as of March 6, 2008 and which you are protesting. What does the Government Decree 234-N of 6 March, 2008 provide for, that you are opposing?

During the presidency of Robert Kocharian an agreement was made with President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin on conducting joint geological exploration for uranium ores. On March 6, 2008 the Government issued a decree on Establishment of the Armenian-Russian Mining Company CJSC, 50% shares of which are held by  «Rosatom» State Nuclear Energy Corporation, and the other 50 %- by the Armenian Government on behalf of  the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources.

According to the Government Decree, the Company will conduct geological exploration of uranium ore in the whole territory of Armenia until 2014. The protest movement was formed in Lernadzor village of Syunik region, as the activities were launched there in February 2010. However the whole country will be endangered if we allow continuation of   uranium exploration.

What are the risks and what kind of negative consequences?

Currently they conduct drilling activities to detect uranium reserve. Do you know that uranium is radioactive and by moving the deposit we can not ensure that the level of radiation in the region remains the same? However, our main concern is the possible discovery of the uranium. If they find sufficient reserves of uranium and decide to exploit the mine we do not have guarantees that Armenian authorities would resist the large state and say:  "No, we are against the project".

Syunik region is considered to be a center of mining in Armenia. We have too many abnormal births: newborns with six fingers, calf with two heads, the rate of cancer is high, almost all women have cancer. There is no statistics because majority of them go to hospitals in Yerevan.

How were you informed about the decision of the Government?

Surprisingly, we have learned about the decision in 2010 from the Internet. Then we have initiated collection of signatures from May. It was conducted in Kapan and nearby villages.

People are at a loss when they hear the word "uranium". And we find unacceptable the Government's way of making decisions on such a delicate issue without consideration of public opinion. For that reason, together with "Azatamart" Committee we have initiated a survey and signature collection with participation of 13 850 citizens.

The citizens were given opportunity to answer for, against or be neutral.

This was done to prevent further accusations of the authorities that the survey was conducted only among those who had negative attitude.

More than 99 % of respondents are against the possible exploitation of the uranium mine in Armenia.

How that could have possibly happened that after the discussion at Kapan's Arhus center in the minutes of the meeting it was noted that residents of Lernadzor are in favor of Government's initiative while the villagers are against?    

To be honest, I was not there during the discussion because at that time this issue had not been raised publicly. It was in the beginning 2010, if I am not mistaken. I do not know how the hearing was organized by the authorized bodies. Representatives from the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources and 2-3 representatives from the public sector were there. According to the representatives from the public sector, the minutes were falsified because it is mentioned there that Lernadzor residents and the Head of Lernadzor village are in favor of that decision. However we cooperate with the Head of the village as well and he has likewise position with the village residents.

When was the exploration for uranium ore launched in Lernadzor and what are current developments?

Since October, 2011 «Abvan» LLC restarted exploratory activities in Lernadzor by the order of «Armenian-Russian Mining Organization» CJSC. We are planning to renew our protest actions.

What measures are you planning to take?

We are preparing posters with different slogans; along with NGOs we will submit an open letter to RA President. Considering a low level of usage of information technologies, we disseminate leaflets and posters to inform residents about our activities.

You have submitted letters to various public bodies. What is your demand and what was the feedback?

We have submitted letters to RA President, Prime Minister, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Secretary of the National Security, Public Council, Ministry of Nature Protection and various non-governmental institutions. The responses from public institutions do not meet our concerns as they present the work that was done, legislative grounds and prospective. While in our letters we clearly presented that public is apparently against the government decrees and it is not proper to disregard public opinion in the democratic and rule of law state. We demand to annul all legal acts concerning this field and stop exploration. This is the position of not only the civil society institutions but also general public opinion. It was shown by the results of the signatures collected.

Interview by   Mary Aleksanyan