Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant

The Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant (Armenian: Մեծամոր ատոմակայան), also known as Oktemberyan or Medzamor, was built during the 1970s, about thirty kilometres west of the Armenian capital of Yerevan in the city of Metsamor. The plant was constructed with two VVER-440 Model V230 nuclear reactors. The power plant produces about 40% of Armenia's electricity. It was closed due to the 1988 earthquake in Armenia. However, blockades by Turkey and Azerbaijan, which created energy shortages in Armenia, caused the Armenian government to decide to reopen the plant in 1993. The Unit 2 reactor was brought back into operation on October 26, 1995. The resources of the working Armenian nuclear power plant will be exhausted by 2016.

The plant has been operated by Russian company Inter RAO UES since 2003, as part of a five year term to help pay off Armenia's debts.

The authorities in Yerevan formally agreed in 2007 to close the Metsamor plant after several years of pressure from the United States and the European Union, which claim it to be inherently unsafe and are promoting to build its own version of the reactor. The E.U. reportedly had classified the VVER 440 Model V230 light water-cooled reactors as the "oldest and least reliable" category of all the 66 Soviet reactors built in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. However, the IAEA has found that the Metsamor NPP has adequate safety and can function beyond its design lifespan.

Armenia is currently discussing the issue of constructing a new nuclear power plant of either 1,000 or 1,200 MW, with a projected cost of $4 billion and $5.2-7.2 billion dollars respectively. Armenian Deputy Minister of Energy and natural Resources Areg Galstyan said that the construction of the new nuclear power plant may start in 2011. The new NPP is expected to be commissioned in 2017.

The Metsamor plant was built to withstand up to a 9-magnitude earthquake, and the reactor is cooled by a second contour, which is a separate system, a separate barrier. However, it does not have a protecting layer, which would absorb exhausted dangerous elements in case of an accident. The new nuclear power plant would also be constructed to have at least a 9-magnitude seismic resistance.

Recent developments

Hakob Sanasaryan, an Armenian chemist and environmentalist campaigner and head of the Green Union of Armenia, claimed in 2003 that the Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant did not meet internationally accepted nuclear safety standards, due to the lack of a containment vessel.

On April 23, 2007 the director of Russia's Federal Agency for Atomic Energy (Rosatom) Sergei Kiriyenko, met with Armenia's Energy Minister Armen Movsisyan and Ecology Minister, Vardan Ayvazyan, where the Russian side indicated Moscow's willingness to help Armenia build a new nuclear power plant, in the event that Armenian officials opted to head in that direction. This statement was followed by former President Robert Kocharyan's speech given to Yerevan State University students on April 27, 2007 during which he said that serious work on the fate of Armenia's atomic energy is underway and practical steps will be taken in this direction in 2008–2009. The president considered it desirable to construct a new nuclear power plant based on the existing infrastructures and new technologies. However, in his words, it is necessary to determine the amount needed and examine what impact it will have on rates. Robert Kocharyan said that in 2012–2013, active work will be carried out to build a new nuclear power plant and modernize the current one.

Armen Movsisyan has also announced that a decision to build a new unit at the operating nuclear power plant to replace the one to be decommissioned has been taken. The new unit would support 1,000 MW, which would "not only meet the needs of Armenia and reduce the country's dependence on organic energy considerably, but will also have certain energy importance in the region." The development of a feasibility study for building a new reactor at the Metsamor nuclear power plant is underway with the assistance of foreign specialists. This work is expected to be completed within 1–2 years. Another proposed idea would be to have the unit support 1,200 MW. The cost of the project will go upwards from $4 billion to 5.2-7.2 billion depending on the power of the plant. Armenian Deputy Minister of Energy and natural Resources Areg Galstyan said that the construction of the new nuclear power plant may start in 2011. The new NPP is expected to be commissioned in 2017. The United States has backed plans for a new Armenian Nuclear Plant and has pledged to help the Armenian government conduct feasibility studies needed for the implementation of the multimillion-dollar project. On November 29, 2007 the Armenian government approved a plan to shut down the nuclear power plant, but gave no specific date. According to Energy Minister Armen Movsisyan, the shutdown could cost up to $280 million.

In December 2008, the Armenian government's progress in meeting international safety standards regarding its use of nuclear energy at the Metsamor NPP were praised by Council on Nuclear Energy Safety Chairman Adolf Birkhofer who also praised the overall development of the energy system in the country.

In the wake of Japan's 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, the combination of design and location of Metsamor has been claimed to make it among the most dangerous nuclear plants in the world. The Metsamor power station is one of the very few remaining nuclear reactors of its kind that were built without primary containment structures. However, the IAEA has found that the plant has adequate safety and can function beyond its design lifespan. Armenian authorities and nuclear experts have also dismissed the possibility of a repeat of Fukushima, citing numerous safety upgrades the plant has received since one of its reactors was restored into operation in 1995.