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June 04, 2004




At Risk in Metsamor?: Living in the shadow of reactors


Parallel to the construction of the nuclear power plant in the 1970-80s, the town of Metsamor was established some three to four kilometers from the plant. People from almost all the regions of Armenia fled to the town to settle down here. They built families, had children and worked at the power plant.
Sanosyan Artavazd 90 years old (in center), resident of Metsamor..

But after the plant closed in 1989, the people of Metsamor lost their jobs and didn’t start working again until late 1995, when construction of the plant restarted.

Today only 20% of the population of Metsamor works at the plant. Many people in the town are pleased that the plant that is their only hope does function, while others are unhappy with that very fact.

“It poisons us. And if we get an instrument measuring the dose and install somewhere in the town, we’ll see that we are living in poison, but who cares, we have to,” says Rafik Mkhitaryan, a 70-year-old resident of Metsamor.

“We, Armenians, to put it relatively, are among the smart nations of the region,” says Artavazd Sanosyan, a man in his 90s, whose two sons, a daughter and two grandchildren work at the power plant.

“If they tell me that the nuclear power plant is safe and secure, I trust them,” he says. “If the plant shuts down, this town will exist no more. This is the only working place that feeds us.”

Karapet Manukyan, 74, has been working at the plant for almost two decades and has never felt any change in his health condition. Nor has he ever had a medical examination to learn whether the work at plant has affected his health.

“The plant functions fine, it is protected, and we haven’t felt that it may damage our health,” says Manukyan.

Rafik Mkhitaryan has been working as a brigade leader of the group digging pits for the two reactors of the plant since February 4, 1970.

Rafik Mkhitaryan 76 years old (third from the left).

“When the plant was ready for exploitation, the minister of electric networks of the USSR, Grigoriants, said that the term is 28 years, and there’s no right to exploit it even a day past the deadline,” says Mkhitaryan. He assures that now the scientists check up the plant once a year and extend the term by two-three years, which is not right.

“We are very much afraid but there are people that prolong the life of the plant to amass wealth. The structure at present is decayed. They are also afraid to go on building it but, nevertheless, they do for filling their pockets. Though I am not smart enough for it but I find that if the deadline has expired, then it’s necessary to stop it so that our nation doesn’t get into big trouble,” he says.

The mother of two children, Gohar Bezprozvanikh also fears for herself and her kids and does not think the plant is secure.

“Earthquakes take place and that is already dangerous. On the other hand, we have no other source for work or energy, so it is as impossible to close it,” says Gohar.

Some in the town say the plant causes certain illness and birth defects.

They suggest that, in exchange for the risk, residents of Metsamor should get their power for free.

“This will compensate the risk of living here,” Mkhitaryan said.


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