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Armenia’s leading environmental campaigners have voiced renewed concerns about the safety of the nuclear power plant at Metsamor, pointing to the nuclear crisis that has struck Japan following a devastating earthquake and tsunami.


They on Wednesday stood by their belief Armenia should end its heavy reliance on atomic energy because of being located in a seismically active zone. They also dismissed assurances by government officials and nuclear experts that the Metsamor plant is reliable enough to withstand a powerful earthquake.

“In the seismic sense, it lies in the worst possible location,” said Karine Danielian, a former environment minister who leads a non-government organization called For the Sustainable Human Development.

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, both Danielian and Hakob Sanasarian of the Armenian Green Union denied government claims that Metsamor is at a safe distance from tectonic fault lines causing earthquakes. “There are five tectonic cracks in the vicinity,” Sanasarian claimed, adding that one of them is only 500 meters away from the plant’s Soviet-built reactor.

“And they say it’s the safest plant,” he scoffed. “I can understand that. Whoever has a facility always praises it.”

The head of the Armenian State Committee on Nuclear Safety Regulation, Ashot Martirosian, argued on Monday that Metsamor’s reactor cooling system is different from that of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan. He also said that a magnitude 8.9 earthquake, which has wreaked havoc on Japan, is extremely likely to ever hit Armenia.

Martirosian’s arguments were echoed on Wednesday by two other Armenian officials. “The Metsamor plant’s design is different from Fukushima’s, it has a higher degree of safety,” said Aram Tananian, an official at the presidential National Security Council dealing with nuclear safety.

Japan -- Reactors No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 at Tokyo Electric Power Co. Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, 15Mar2011
“In Japan, they had apparently pinned their hopes on higher work discipline and lower production costs,” Tananian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.

“I don’t like those types of [Japanese] reactors,” said Vahram Petrosian, the director of a government-funded research institute specializing in atomic energy. “Our reactor is a good one,” he added.

Petrosian also argued that the Metsamor plant, which generates about 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity, has undergone numerous safety upgrades since being reactivated in 1995.

According to the Energy Ministry, Armenia has received $130 million worth of assistance from the United States, the European Union, Russia and other international bodies to finance those improvements. The ministry said another $25 million is due to be spent in the next two years.

The Metsamor facility was shut down by the Soviet government one year after a 6.9-magnitude earthquake that killed some 25,000 people and devastated much of northern Armenia in 1988. The plant was virtually unaffected by the quake despite being located 75 kilometers away from its epicenter.

Danielian insisted that nobody can predict for certain how Metsamor’s safety systems would respond to another calamity. “The example of Japan shows just how unpredictable an emergency can be,” she said.
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