UK experts: Armenia’s Metsamor power plant - historical anomaly

UK experts: Armenia’s Metsamor power plant - historical anomaly

Baku, Azerbaijan, May 16

By Elena Kosolapova - Trend:

Armenia's Metsamor power plant is an historical anomaly, and arguably should never have been placed on a seismic fault line, William Arthurs, member of the British Institute of Energy Economics and Ziba Norman, director of the UK Transatlantic & Caucasus Studies Institute, told Trend May 16.

Armenia has a nuclear power plant, Metsamor, built in 1970. The power plant was closed after a devastating earthquake in Spitak in 1988. But despite the international protests, the power plant's operation was resumed in 1995. Moreover, a second reactor was launched there.

"Its placement is more to do with Soviet concepts of progress than a careful and considered approach to Armenia's energy needs," the UK experts added. "If such a plant were being designed today, in accordance with safety regulations, it would never be placed in such a location."

The accidents at Fukushima and Chernobyl, in different ways, mirror the possible risks borne by those living in the vicinity of Metsamor, according to the experts.

Arthurs and Norman noted that both Metsamor and Fukushima nuclear power plants are located on an area of intense seismic activity - 1988 being the most recent example, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake, the epicentre of which was only 100 kilometers from Metsamor.

"Thus, even if Metsamor were to be upgraded with an additional containment structure, of the type in operation at Fukushima, Metsamor would remain vulnerable to a Fukushima level 7 nuclear accident," said the experts.

The risks posed by the Metsamor power plant are not therefore theoretical and, like Chernobyl, the spread of radioactive materials in the event of an accident would cross national borders, they added.

Arthurs and Norman pointed out that Yerevan itself is a capital city only 20 kilometers from the aged plant, while Turkey is a mere 15 kilometers away from that power plant and there are fertile agricultural lands in this region.

"It is almost inconceivable that a plant as aged as Metsamor (commissioned in 1976) is still being used to provide a major source of energy for Armenia," said the experts. "To continue attempted upgrades, whilst fully aware of the unacceptable risks it poses to Armenia itself and the region is beyond shortsighted and could be considered negligent."

They noted that the international community do have important interests at stake, as the fallout (as in the case of Chernobyl) does not respect national borders.

Arthurs and Norman pointed out that the main question the decision takers should be asking themselves is: would such a plant be commissioned in this location today?

"If the answer is "no", then a continued attempt to keep Metsamor in use is a dangerously poor decision," they added.

The experts said that Armenia is a small area geographically, which could be rendered uninhabitable if an accident at the power plant were to occur.

In a region as energy-rich as the Caucasus it seems a cruel irony that Armenia might stake its very existence, simply for a failure to acknowledge the need for alternative energy supplies, they added.

Furthermore, a sustainable approach to Armenia's energy needs would enhance cooperation in the region, and is therefore win-win; keep Armenia and her people safe, and aid long-term economic prosperity in the region, according to Arthurs and Norman.

"None of this will be possible without an acknowledgement that energy self-sufficiency based on nuclear power may simply not be a realistic option in this region," the experts added.

---

Follow the author on Twitter: @E_Kosolapova

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