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Armenia’s Metsamor One of the Most Dangerous Nuclear Power Plants

Experts have called Armenia’s Metsamor nuclear power plant “among the most dangerous” nuclear plants still in operation.

The Metsamor nuclear power plant is only 20 miles from Armenia’s capital and most populous Yerevan city. Its location in a seismic zone has drawn renewed attention since Japan’s nuclear crisis, NatGeo magazine said in its article “Is Armenia’s Nuclear Plant the World’s Most Dangerous?”

The power plant Metsamor was built in 1979 and closed in 1989 after an earthquake prompted officials to reconsider the safety of the location.

On December 10, 1988, a 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck, killing 25,000 people. Some 60 miles from the epicenter, Metsamor, then with two operating reactors, survived the earthquake without damage, according to Armenian officials and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In 1996, one reactor resumed operations with Western financial assistance for upgrades. Then in 2003, Russia’s state-run power monopoly, Unified Energy System, took over operations in return for Moscow’s cancellation of a US$40 million debt.

Despite the upgrades to the plant, Antonia Wenisch of the Austrian Institute of Applied Ecology in Vienna said that “the overall safety has not improved sufficiently.”

Armenian officials remain confident that their antiquated nuclear power plant can ride out any Japanese-sized tremor. Of course, they have little choice but to believe in its infallibility, The Moscow Times speculates.

Metsamor provides Armenia with more than 40 percent of its energy consumption, and the country has very few alternative energy resources.

Seven years ago, the European Union’s envoy was quoted as calling the facility “a danger to the entire region,” but Armenia later turned down the EU’s offer of a US$289 million loan to finance Metsamor’s shutdown.

Since the EU failed to persuade Armenia to close the plant, it has focused on providing aid for improving its safety, spending more than US$85 million on such projects as well as for renewable energy, and regional energy cooperation efforts.

Armenia has made efforts to obtain other sources of fuel, such as a natural gas pipeline from its southern neighbor Iran, which opened in 2007. But the amount of fuel to be imported remains in question. The conduit poses potential competition to Russia, a country on which Armenia remains highly reliant, for everything from nuclear fuel to grain.

The 3 million people of landlocked Armenia are unique in their energy dependence on one aging nuclear power reactor.

Azerbaijan to the east and Turkey to the west closed their borders with Armenia, cutting off most routes for oil and natural gas.

Armenia has been forced to store spent fuel on-site for 22 years because of a blockade by its two neighbors.

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