Armenia upgrades outdated nuclear plant to extend operation till 2026

Mon 28 August 2017 17:48 GMT | 21:48 Local Time

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Armenia will begin to upgrade its outdated and full of risks Metsamor nuclear power plant in November, for extending its operation till 2026, despite serious concerns of the regional countries and international community, reports.

“Supplies of equipment to extend the life of unit 2 of the Armenian nuclear power plant at Metsamor are expected to begin in November 2017”, the Armenian Ministry of Energy Infrastructures and Natural Resources said on 14 August. 

The nuclear plant’s two Soviet supplied VVER 440-V230 light-water reactors (407,5 MW), which is located about 30 kilometers west of the capital Yerevan, is 16 kilometers away from the Turkish border—in an area that includes the fertile agricultural region of the Aras River valley, and lies on some of Earth's most earthquake-prone terrain. The reactors were commissioned in 1977 and 1980, but were closed down in March 1989, after a 6.8-magnitude earthquake in Spitak on December 7, 1988 that killed 25,000 people.

The second power unit of the Metsamor plant was re-launched in November 1995, and 30-year design life expired in 2016. Meanwhile, Armenian authorities want to extend the operation period of the second power unit, and at the same time activate the construction of a new nuclear power plant, which is supposed to operate at twice the capacity of the Soviet-constructed facility.

In December 2009, Armenia approved the establishment of Metzamorenergoatom, a 50-50 Russian-Armenian joint stock company set up by the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources with Atomstroyexport, with shares offered to other investors. This is to build a 1060 MWe AES-92 unit (with a VVER-1000 model V-392 reactor) with a service life of 60 years at Metsamor. It would have two natural-draft cooling towers. In March 2010 an agreement was signed with Rosatom to provide the V-392 reactor equipment for it. 

According to World Nuclear Association, the construction of the new plant was to commence in 2013 and was expected to cost US$5 billion. Armenia undertook to buy all electricity produced at commercial rates, enabling investors' return on capital, for 20 years. In May 2014, Armenia approved construction of the new reactor, starting 2018, and in July 2014, the Armenian energy minister said that Russia was expected to provide plant worth $4.5 billion out of the total 5 billion dollars.  

In December 2014, Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom and Armenian energy and natural resources ministry signed an intergovernmental cooperation agreement for extending the service life of of Metsamor’s second reactor unit, its sole operational reactor (expires in September 2016), extending its operation for another 10 years. According to the contract, the Life extension is being financed through loans of $270m and a $30m grant from Russia, the Armenia Asbarez news website reported.

In June 2017, Rosatom announced its plans to carry out work to extend the operating period of unit 2 of the Metsamor nuclear power plant in Armenia in 2018 and 2019, that will include modernisation of its cooling towers, turbine unit, control and safety systems, and other equipment.  

Besides being situated in a seismically active area, another big concern is that the plant built with old Soviet technology similar to that of Chernobyl, has no cooling mechanism or containment building to prevent radiation from escaping during an accident. 

An accident at Metsamor would unusable the Aras River, passing Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran, and in addition, radiation would envelop neighboring countries.

Even though some international organizations and officials have repeatedly called on Armenia, the closure was postponed for several times due to Armenia’s lack of energy sources and dependency on energy.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United States as well as other Western states have already objected to its reopening. According to a 1999 agreement with the EU, Armenia would close the plant before the end of its design lifetime, provided that alternative replacement capacity is available. 

“In principle, nuclear plants should not be built in highly active seismic zones. This plant is a danger to the entire region,” Alexis Louber, the Head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan, said in June 2004. 

In 2009, Turkish Atomic Energy Authority openly warned about the danger of Metsamor nuclear power plant considering its distance from Turkey, as it threatens the eastern part of Turkey where agriculture and animal breeding are important sources of income for the inhabitants. 

In 2012, the European Parliament adopted a resolution recommending the closure of the Metsamor plant before 2016, saying that it cannot be upgraded to meet international standards and is a threat to the whole region. However, Armenia turned down the EU’s offer of a EUR 200 million loan to finance the shutdown, avoiding energy shortages, as the power plant accounts for 40% of the country’s electricity supplies. 

Antonia Wenisch of the Austrian Institute of Applied Ecology in Vienna, described Metsamor as "among the most dangerous" nuclear plants still in operation, saying that a rupture "would almost certainly immediately and massively fail the confinement".  




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