In a major piece of bad news for Armenia’s neighbors Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia, Armenia's energy minister Armen Movsisyan has told journalists that the country’s aging Metsamor NPP, originally scheduled for decommissioning in 2016," will operate until 2026."
But not to worry, Armenia's President Serzh Sarkisian earlier this month signed an agreement with Russia’s state nuclear agency Rosatom to assist in renovating the facility, as in 2012 Armenia had postponed the Metsamor’s decommissioning until 2020.
So, why the long faces in the Caucasus?
Metsamor NPP, which began operations in 1976, is located in one of the world’s most earthquake-prone regions, and is only 19 miles west of the Armenian capital Yerevan. Metsamor NPP contains two VVER-400 V230 376 megawatt nuclear reactors generating about 2 million kilowatt hours of energy annually, providing about 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity, with hydroelectric and thermal power plants providing about 30 percent each.
Many environmentalists regard Metsamor NPP as an accident waiting to happen. These were the first Soviet NPPs designed to be built in a region of high seismicity. Plans for units 3 & 4 at the site were abandoned after the 1986 Chernobyl “incident.”
The Armenian government closed Metsamor's Unit 1 in February 1989 and Unit 2 the next month following a massive December 1988 earthquake in Spitak which killed more than 25,000, left much of northern Armenia in ruins and caused more than $4 billion in damage. The facility remained shuttered for seven years until power shortages forced the Armenian government to bring it back online. In 1993, the government decided to restart the NPP and, in late 1995, Unit 2 came back on line. During the winter of 1994-95, Yerevan residents often had only 1-2 hours of electricity daily. With the restart of Unit 2, they were expected to have electricity for 10-12 hours daily.
The European Union has repeatedly called for the plant to be closed down, arguing that it poses a threat to the region, classifying Metsamor’s reactors as the "oldest and least reliable" category of all the 66 Soviet reactors built in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. In 2004 the European Union's envoy called Metsamor "a danger to the entire region," but Armenia later turned down the EU's offer of a 200 million euro loan to finance Metsamor's shutdown, countering that the Metsamor NPP has undergone considerable upgrades over the past decade and has been passed as acceptable by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences President Mahmud Karimov in September 2011 voiced his country’s concerns over Metsamor, stating, "The European Union also expressed the need to close the plant. Despite regular inspections of the plant by international organizations, the results of these inspections are kept secret and no information is given to Azerbaijan about them. The countries of the region – Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia – have repeatedly proposed allowing the specialists of these countries to examine the Metsamor nuclear power plant. But the reports on Metsamor are not available to these three countries. The Armenian side says ten different committees have checked the Metsamor NPP in 2011. But the test results are not available to neighboring countries, that is, the inspections lack transparency."
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Ultimately, it is all down to money. While the EU insists that Armenia shutter the Metsamor NPP, earlier this year Latvian parliament member Nikolai Kabanov told participants at the “Armenia: geopolitical and integration prospects” conference in Yerevan, “As to Metsamor nuclear power plant providing 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity, the EU is insisting on alternative energy sources, but I do not see any project for funding it. I think it is totally unrealistic to think the EU will suggest funding alternative energy source projects in the economic situation it finds itself today.”
Last but hardly least, Movsisyan added that a new facility would be built over the next decade to eventually replace the Metsamor NPP.
Perhaps it is not coincidental that Metsamor’s meaning in Armenian is “black swamp” or “black quicksand.”
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com