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June 04, 2004




Nuclear Power: Europe’s new concern about Metsamor


The European Union will allocate 100 million Euro to Armenia for interrupting the exploitation of the Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant and searching for new energy sources. However, the grant was frozen and will not be allotted unless the Armenian government announces the precise term for closing the plant.
Metsamor Power Plant from the South-East..

Resistance to the Europeans’ demand was decisive: Armenian experts and the representatives of state structures express radically different opinions. The Armenian government declares that some 800 million Euro is necessary to close Metsamor and for other relevant arrangements, as well as for developing alternative energy systems.

The first block of the Armenian power plant was launched December 22, 1976; the second started January 5, 1980. It was built by a project of first generation plants. Under ecological pressure that strengthened in 1988, the two blocks of the plant were stopped the following winter. The 1988 strong earthquake of Spitak that killed tens of thousands turned out a decisive factor. In 1988-1992 the republic literally plunged into darkness, and, by the government’s decision, the plant restarted in 1995. The power project envisages 30 years of exploitation. Then why is Europe in a hurry? What’s the ground for the unrest?

“We think that no nuclear power plant must be in a seismic zone as it is dangerous for the region as a whole. There are also technical reasons because that plant is an old generation construction and does not comply with contemporary standards,” says Alexis Loeber, EU Armenia Office director. According to European experts, the Armenian plant is one of such dangerous constructions throughout the world.

The probability of repeating earthquakes in the same territory is a truth seismology recognizes. The settlement and the temple of Garni situated not far from the power plant are historically known to have suffered from a mighty earthquake that ruined them. “Those seismic risks that are considered today in Armenia are not that dangerous. But geological events are a complicated processes. There can be an earthquake that occurs once 20-30 years; it is impossible to guarantee anything,” acknowledges Alvaro Antonian, head of the Armenian national service of seismic protection.

According to Areg Galstian, Armenian deputy minister of energy, the reactor of the Metsamor plant is the modernized and stable version of the Russian, Bulgarian and Slovakian reactors of the same generation. The security systems were strengthened before the restart, taking account Armenia’s peculiarities.

Charles Dunlop, an expert from the American University of Armenia, says that the second reason for closing the Metsamor plant is that the reactor is not in line with contemporary standards although American and European donor organizations have allotted around $50 million to solve that problem. The reactor of the Armenian power plant has no concrete protecting layer, which would keep the stream of exhaustion from polluting the atmosphere. But, Konstantin Pyuskulian, deputy director of the plant’s security department, says that today it is both financially and technically impossible to construct a concrete protecting layer for the Armenian plant.

Alvaro Antonyan Head of National Seismic Center..

There’s also another perplexing circumstance: the nuclear fuel is imported to Armenia from Russia via air. In terms of the economic blockade, this is the only way of transporting the product. “It is the same as a flying potential nuclear bomb. This is a way practiced nowhere else all over the world. The fuel is generally transported either via sea or by railway,” says Alexis Loeber. “Even if the airplane crashes, there will be less damage than the air pollution in case of using a bomb with depleted uranium,” confidently says, Armen Saghatelian, director of the Center for Ecological Studies.

The Metsamor plant currently generates 1/3 of the energy consumed in Armenia.

“The closing of the plant for Armenia will signify a return to the darkness of 1988-1992,” says Galstian and, at the same time, adds that if the plant gets closed, Armenia will have to depend on the only gas pipeline, the technical state of which is not very good.

The construction of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline may be a good incentive for developing thermal power plants. But this, too, according to the Armenian official, is not a complete alternative to the nuclear power plant. “We never say ‘no’, we say ‘yes’, we will shut down the Metsamor plant but we must have alternative sources and capacities.” According to him, if everything takes its normal course, the Metsamor plant will close in 2016.

And if the dialogue between the European Union and Armenia on the issue of closing the plant does eventually take place then the closing will be no earlier than 5 years following the decision made. About this much time is necessary to create capacities partially alternative to the Metsamor plant.


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