By Atom Markarian
The strategic nuclear power station at Metsamor is safe enough to continue to operate for at least 13 more years, Armenia’s and Russia’s leading atomic energy scientists said Friday in a further sign that it will not be shut down soon.
Armen Abakian, director of a Moscow-based research institute that works for nuclear plants across Russia, brushed aside Western fears that Metsamor’s sole Soviet-built reactor, exploited since 1980, poses a danger to environment. He argued that the reactor’s operational longevity is 30 years and given the fact that it was not operational between 1989 and 1995 the plant can safely produce electricity at least until 2016.
“Such facilities are usually given an extra 15 years of life,” Abakian told a scientific symposium in Yerevan. “Therefore, the Armenian atomic station can function even until 2031.”
Abakian’s Armenian counterpart, Vahram Petrosian, made the same point, saying that Metsamor, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of Armenia’s annual energy production, should not be decommissioned before 2016. “I don’t consider its early closure justified,” he said.
Petrosian added that Metsamor’s operational safety has been considerably boosted since 1995 with the financial and technical assistance of Western governments and the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“They are very serious in taking safety measures. There has been no occasion of conflict between us and the authorities; they have been very cooperative,” Massoud Samiei, a senior IAEA official, had told RFE/RL in October 2002.
Nonetheless, European Union experts believe that Metsamor’s light-water reactor is one the most dangerous of its kind and is vulnerable to nuclear disasters. The United States largely shares those concerns.
The EU had secured in the late 1990s a tentative Armenian pledge to shut down Metsamor by 2004. But official Yerevan has repeatedly stated in recent years that it will not do so without putting in place an alternative source of cheap energy, something which will hardly happen in the near future.
Metsamor’s closure has become even more unlikely after Russia’s state-run Unified Energy Systems utility was granted last month its five-year management in exchange for repaying its $40 million debts to Russian nuclear fuel suppliers. “The EU is much more demanding towards others than itself,” UES vice-chairman Andrei Rapoport said as he sealed the deal in Yerevan.
According to Abakian, Russian nuclear energy officials and scientists draw encouragement from Armenia’s experience as they fight back Western attempts to have all Soviet-era nuclear plants in Eastern Europe decommissioned. He pointed to the fact that Metsamor is the only nuclear facility in the world that was reactivated after standing idle for six years.
“When everyone around the world attacks us, we cite Armenia’s example,” he said. “We say, ‘See, they made an experiment and it worked.’”