The Armenian government has decided to start a comprehensive international review of the safety of the nuclear power station in Metsamor in an effort to learn lessons from the nuclear disaster in Japan, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian announced on Friday.
“At the center of our attention must be not only the nuclear plant itself but also the infrastructures that ensure the normal work of the plant,” Sarkisian told a cabinet meeting.
“We will once again look into this matter, also by inviting international experts and hearing their views on what additional steps need to be taken to improve the safety of our nuclear plant,” he said. He gave no time frames or other details of the planned review.
The Soviet-built Metsamor plant, which meets about 40 percent of Armenia’s energy needs, has long been a source of safety concerns from local environment protection groups and Western governments. It has again come under public spotlight since a devastating earthquake and tsunami caused a series of explosions at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Armenian environmentalists argue that like Japan, Armenia is situated in a seismically active region prone to powerful earthquakes. They say the Metsamor plant should therefore be shut down as soon as possible.
Armenian government officials and nuclear experts dismiss such concerns. They say that Metsamor’s reactor design is different from Fukushima’s and that the facility is reliable enough to withstand a powerful earthquake. Citing geological data, they claim that a magnitude 8.9 earthquake, which has wreaked havoc on Japan, is extremely likely to ever hit Armenia.
Another argument made by them is that the plant has undergone numerous safety upgrades since one of its two reactors was 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 Armenian government until recently planned to decommission the Metsamor reactor and replace it by a more modern facility by 2017. However, a senior nuclear official in Yerevan said last August that the shutdown will likely be delayed by several years because the construction of a new nuclear plant will take more time than previously thought.