Armenia on shaky ground with nuclear plant: EU
Built in 1979, the plant provides more than 40 per cent of Armenia's electricity. But, situated as it is in a highly active earthquake zone, some say the it casts an ominous shadow over the fertile Ararat valley.
Following a devastating earthquake in 1988, the plant was closed, but a massive energy shortage in the 1990s saw Metsamor re-opened in 1995. Ever since then, Armenian environmentalists have hoped to see it decommissioned for good.
“The Armenian nuclear plant is located at the intersection of several major fault lines. According to some data, the main fault is just 500 metres away from the reactor. This is extremely dangerous and totally goes against all the norms of nuclear power plant construction,” environmentalist campaigner Hakob Sanasaryan explained.
The European Union is also deeply opposed to the continued operation of the plant. Not only do EU officials consider all nuclear reactors of this vintage to be obsolete and dangerous, but they also say that any nuclear facility in such an active earthquake zone is an unnecessary risk.
Armenian officials brush off these concerns. They point out that, not only does the plant have certification from the IAEA, but that much has been done to improve safety since it was built in the late 1970s.
Gagik Markosyan, General Director of Metsamor, says that even in 1988, at the time of the Spital earthquake, the nuclear power plant continued to work well.
The current reactor at Metsamor will finally come to the end of its life in 2016. Though the EU has offered Armenia 200 million euros to look for alternative sources of energy, the country has no natural resources of its own.
Experts say that in a world of rising fuel costs nuclear energy is the only way Armenia can meet its power needs.
The country's energy ministry is now looking for foreign companies to assist them with the construction of the new plant. They insist the new station will satisfy both Armenia's demand for electricity and the safety concerns of sceptics at home and abroad.