Metsamor Armenian Nuclear Power Plant

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Metsamor Armenian Nuclear Power Plant

Located near the town of the same name in Armavir Marz, the skyline is dominated by the four cooling towers of the Metsamor Armenian Nuclear Power Plant. The nuclear plant, not open to the public, still generates about 40% of Armenia's electricity. Though neither of the two reactor units suffered damage in the December 1988 earthquake, they were shut down in response to domestic populist pressure as inherently unsafe. Unit Two was reopened in 1996, with loans from Russia and subsequent safety assistance from the U.S. Department of Energy and the International Atomic Energy Agency. As a further safety measure, the plant management brought Katholikos Garegin I to bless a new chapel in the plant's main administrative building in 1997. The Government of Armenia pledged under international pressure to shut the reactors down permanently by the end of 2004, but reneged due to a lack of affordable alternative power and the cost of shutting down a nuclear power plant.

International Experts Find Adequate Safety At Armenian Nuclear Plant

Sargis Harutyunyan

Armenia’s Metsamor nuclear power plant poses an “acceptable” level of risk to environment and can “in principle” operate beyond its design life span, international nuclear safety experts said on Thursday following a two-week inspection conducted there.

While identifying several “good plant practices” at the Soviet-era facility, the experts working under the aegis of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recommended specific measures which they said would further boost its operational safety.

“There is no industrial activity that does not pose any risk, but I think the results of our inspection show that this risk [at Metsamor] is acceptable,” Gabor Vamos, head of the IAEA’s ad hoc Operational Safety Review Team (OSART) for Armenia, told a news conference in Yerevan.

The Armenian government solicited the OSART mission about two months ago, citing the need to learn lessons from the grave accidents at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. It also hoped to ally renewed domestic and international concerns about Metsamor’s safety.

Like Japan, Armenia is situated in a seismically active region prone to powerful earthquakes. Local environment protection groups say the Fukushima disaster should be a wake-up to the authorities in Yerevan to shut down the Metsamor plant as soon as possible.

Armenian government officials and nuclear experts dismiss such concerns. One of their arguments is that the plant has undergone numerous safety upgrades since one of its two reactors was reactivated in 1995.

The OSART mission that arrived in the country on May 15 comprised 11 experts representing the IAEA, the European Union, as well as eight individual countries, including the United States, Britain and France. They spent two weeks inspecting Metsamor’s reactor and other facilities, assessing the plant’s safety and maintenance procedures and interviewing its personnel.

Vamos, who is from Hungary, said his team has submitted its preliminary findings to the Armenian government and will release a final report within three months. He said they contain three dozen proposals and recommendations and seven “good plant practices” that will be recommended to the nuclear industries of other nations for consideration.

According to Vamos, one of those examples is the fact that the Metsamor staff take wide-ranging safety measures on their own without relying on private contractors, as is the case in many nuclear plants.

The IAEA stressed this fact in a separate statement issued on Thursday. “This unique approach resulted in staff acquiring deep knowledge and skills to successfully operate and maintain new equipment,” it said.

The statement also said, “The plant has developed a specific, comprehensive system supported by procedure to mitigate the consequences of a station blackout by providing power to systems and components necessary for cooling the reactor in emergency conditions.”

On the downside, Vamos noted that Metsamor technicians do not quickly identify all equipment deficiencies that require urgent repairs. The Armenian authorities should work out a more rigorous mechanism for keeping the plant’s equipment in an “ideal state,” he said.

“The [Metsamor] administration expressed a determination to address all the areas identified for improvement and requested the IAEA to schedule a follow-up mission in approximately 18 months,” read the IAEA statement.

The Vienna-based nuclear watchdog also stressed that the OSART mission to Armenia was not a full-fledged “regulatory inspection.” “Nor is it a design review or a substitute for an exhaustive assessment of the plant’s overall safety status,” it said.

Metsamor’s sole functioning reactor generates about 40 percent of the country’s electricity. The EU classified VVER 440-V230 light-water reactor in the 1990s as one of the “oldest and least reliable” of 66 such facilities built in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

The Armenian government has pledged to decommission it by 2017, in time for the construction of a new and more powerful nuclear plant at the same site over 30 kilometers west of Yerevan. Work on that ambitious project was supposed to start in 2012.

However, the head of Armenia’s State Committee on Nuclear Safety, Ashot Martirosian, indicated last August that the construction could be delayed by several years, suggesting that the existing reactor will function longer than planned.

Asked to comment on such possibility, Vamos said, “There are examples in the world of nuclear reactors, including VVER-440 reactors, having their life spans extended, but to our knowledge, there is no official plan yet to prolong the exploitation of the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant,” “Therefore, that issue was not considered during our inspection.”

“But in principle, there is such technical possibility,” added the Hungarian nuclear expert.

Construction Of New Unit To Start In 2014

Construction Of New Unit Of Armenian Nuclear Power Plant To Start In 2014


YEREVAN, FEBRUARY 8, ARMENPRESS: The works of the new unit of the Armenian nuclear power plant will start in 2014, Prime Minister of Armenia Tigran Sargsyan said during February 8 meeting with journalists at the National Assembly, Armenpress reports.

"We have an agreement with our Russian partners on participation in this project with capital," said the PM, adding it enables to consider the start of the unit's construction in 2014 realistic.

"In this period our business plan will be specified, and the operator company of its implementation will accomplish the works with the investment partners. We have time and the involvedness of two states in implementation of this project increases its attractiveness," said Tigran Sargsyan.

The Prime Minister also did not rule out the possibility of cooperation with French and American parties in the construction works of the unit of the nuclear power plant.

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