The Uncertain Fate of Armenia’s Nuclear Power Plant

YEREVAN (A.W.)—The fate of the 41-year-old Armenian Nuclear Power Plant (ANPP), commonly known as Metsamor, is up for debate yet again as reports have emerged questioning whether the Armenian government will abandon plans for renewal or replacement altogether.

Cooling towers of the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant, also known as Metsamor (Photo: Wikimedia commons)

Metsamor, which is the only nuclear energy plant in the South Caucasus and one of the five remaining Soviet nuclear reactors of its kind, provides energy to 40% of Armenian consumers. Despite its critical role in Armenia’s modern energy economy, its aging design and proximity to earthquake-prone areas make it among the most dangerous nuclear plants in the world.

Built in 1976, the plant was shut down in 1989 by Soviet officials, following the devastating Spitak Earthquake. However, the economic difficulty and energy scarcity in Armenia after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, motivated the new Armenian government to relaunch the second of the plant’s two units.

Since then, the reactor’s operations have been a contentious issue both domestically and internationally. The issue was even addressed in an impending EU-Armenia trade agreement, where a 350-page, publicly-released draft text stipulated the reactor should be closed and replaced (though practical measures in enforcing this were notably vague).

For years, Armenian officials have pledged to build a new nuclear plant, which was originally scheduled to expire in 2016, but in 2015, an extension was granted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) allowing the site to continue operating until 2027.

In the past, politicians have failed to live up to promises of replacing the plant with a modern facility that meets international standards of safety.

Metsamor was one of the issues on which current President Serge Sarkisian ran in 2008. However, while Vice Prime Minister Vache Gabrielyan recently stated that authorities intend to honor plans for construction of the plant that are expected to start in 2022 or 2023, a very different position was represented by Armenia’s Minister of Justice David Harutyunyan, who allegedly told journalists, “Imagine that, let’s say tomorrow, modern technology will allow us to receive the same amount of energy without a nuclear power station. And then our energy, produced with the help of the nuclear station, will cost much more for consumers. So what path should we go down? The path of modern technology of course.”

Replacing the plant will require serious investment—around five billion dollars—which would fund a medium capacity plant (600 megawatts). Closing the plant would deprive millions of people of electricity, without a viable alternative, and would deal a blow to the security of the country.

13 Comments

  1. By closing our Atomic station which is against our national interest we loose political influence and clout and make our energy costs more expensive for our economy and public bearing in mind that Turkey is building 3 nuclear plants.

  2. Several years ago I studied an actual cost-benefit analysis of a nuclear power plant project proposed in the U.K. Nuclear power plants come with all the extremes; high costs, high energy production, longevity, and the most dangerous byproduct. Even if energy production from fossil fuels are relatively high, that doesn’t necessarily make nuclear power the most cost-efficient option. There are a multitude of factors to consider. Even an increase in the cost of uranium can make a NPP not worth it. If Metsamor can safely function for another decade it’s best not to force a decision to build or not. A lot can happen in a decade, the justice minister mentioned in the article had a point. A NPP is a huge decision because it is a huge sunk cost.

  3. Armenia should seriously consider building small modular reactors (SMR). This is the best option for a small country like Armeina. These reactors range from 50MW to 300MW plants and can be installed underground providing physical protection. I actually discussed this with President Sarkisyan when he visited Boston last year. He was very knowledgable about this type of reactors, but expressed the concern they have about the fuel supply and return of the used fuel, valid concern. Currently the fuel for Metzamor NPP is supplied by Russia and they take the used fuel, which is vey important. I think the fuel supply for SMR plant in Armenia can be addressed if Armenia is serious about building these plants. The other main challenge will be financing such projects. Maybe China will, once they finish their design and certification of SMRs.

  4. When costs are compared, they should include wind and solar comparisons.
    The greatest unknown cost of nuclear is the waste.
    Securing the waste by-product for hundreds of years at several guards per shift, three shifts per day, every day, should be included in the cost of nuclear. Also the average cost of a nuclear plant should include the massive failures of Chernobol, Fukushima, Mayak even though they aren’t because the new NPPs will be so much safer.
    (If the history of the two plants mentioned above are investigated, we find they were saying the same thing.)

  5. The idea to construct a new nuclear power plant was Serjik’s brainchild. Like many other things he says, it is impractical and irresponsible. You can put it right next to the 7% economic growth and the 4 million population dreams! A new NPP will cost more than the estimated 5 billion, considering mismanagement and corruption in Armenia, and that is something Armenia cannot afford. Instead of repeating the same nonsense, we better make it clear for Europeans that we have no plans to build a new NPP and instead ask them to help us to increase our renewable energy capacity. If cloudy Germany can generate 5% of its electricity from solar then dry and sunny Armenia can definitely shoot for 10 or 15 percent. The 40% share of nuclear electricity mentioned in this article was in 2000s, now the share of nuclear electricity is almost 30% and we have ample time till 2026 to build new thermal, solar and hydro to make up for the final closure.

  6. Since it restarted in 1996 it has had a load factor of 64.4 per cent, ie down on average 130 days per year, according to the IAEA database PRIS. It is also one of the smallest reactors in the world, so it does not produce very much electricity. It could easily be replaced with wind, solar and improved efficiency. The wind does not blow all the time and the sun does not shine all the time, but that is hardly a problem since Armenia has a lot of hydro (existing) and good capacity to export and import electricity.
    How could it be in the national interest to take the risk of an accident just 36 km from Yerevan by keeping Metsamor operating? It is more like playing Russian roulette with the nation’s existence.
    A new nuclear plant is out of question. The cost is prohibitive. To judge from recent French, Finnish and British examples 5 billion dollars will not be enough.

  7. I read this article and I am disappointed about irresponsible statements made in it. Based on what facts a statement such as following is presented in red “among the most dangerous nuclear plants in the world”? This plant has been checked and reviewed by Diaspora Armenian experts as well as International Atomic Commission and everyone is in agreement that the plant is safe to operate. Everyone remembers the accident in Japan. The reason for that accident was that the area where the backup generator and safety pumps were located got flooded and as a result plant operators were not able to have the water that is needed to cool off the rods, so they melted and released radioactive material. Soviet design is simple and effective. Plant has water tank at the top of area where rods are located and water can be release by a mechanical valve; therefore, no chance to have a disaster like the one in Japan. People compare Armenia’s plant to the Chernobyl, but is not true either as the one in Armenia is not graphite base so it cannot have fire that cannot be distinguished.

    People who demanded closer of the plant back in 1987 should be considered traitors of the nation as this shutdown coupled with the war and blocked, toppled Armenia’s economy which it still has not fully recovered. If this plant was operating in 1992 to 94, then Armenia would have had sufficient electricity and would have not felled into the dark ages.

    There is no name on this article, but I am certain the person who wrote it is misinformed. It would have been nice if the author would have done some investigation before writing such an article.

  8. Areg Gharabegian,

    A.W. is staffed by globalists and socialists and they get their information and inspiration from George Soros and CIA funded “news” organizations. Therefore your disappointment was inevitable.

  9. How is a country that still has not managed to rebuilt Gyumri 30 years after its earthquake going to construct in a mere 10 years enough new electricity generating stations of whatever sort to replace the 30-40% of that country’s demand. Even in wealthy economies, with extensive native cutting-edge construction and project management skills and with open borders allowing full access to raw materials from anywhere in the world, such a timescale would be very tight. The commentator who claimed there is “ample time” to fix this is deluding himself – and has probably never visited Armenia if he thinks there are enough spare water resources or predicable year-round wind to make those forms of alternative power generation practical on the scale that will be required of them if a replacement for Metsamor is abandoned. Short of a land invasion by an enemy resulting in the station’s capture, Metsamor currently guarantees the independence of Armenia’s short to mid-term energy security. The only realistic alternative to not replacing it will be to import most of the resulting missing energy production, abandoning that energy security independence.

  10. Wind and solar have become very affordable over the last few years. At this point they are the two least expensive ways to generate electricity in the US. Unsubsidized wind is less than 1/3rd the cost of subsidized nuclear. Solar is about 1/2 the cost of nuclear.

    What makes sense to me is to do a good analysis to see if Armenia could power itself with wind, solar, and hydro.

    The wind analysis should be done with at least 140 meter hub height turbines. We’ve recently discovered that if one gets up around that height there is a lot stronger and more widespread wind resource than below 100 meters.

    The solar analysis should be done with single-axis tracking. Tracking, rather than fixed mounts is adding about 50% more output and greatly extending the solar day while adding only about 10% to the installed cost.

    The Solutions Project (Stanford University) has analyzed Armenia’s wind, solar and hydro resources and suggested a mix that could yield a 100% clean grid and lower electricity prices.

    http://thesolutionsproject.org/wp-content/uploads/maps/world/pdfs/100_Armenia.pdf

    The cost of investigating a wind, solar and hydro grid is cheap and can be done quickly. The Stanford group would probably help.

    Consider all possibilities before committing to a path that might not be the best path.

  11. Whoever is interested about renewable energy sources and possibilities in Armenia should visit http://www.R2E2.am site where there are lots of information, especially newly developed solar and wind atlases. BTW, wind is measured at 80 m and not 140 m as height of new wind turbine towers are 80 m instead of the old ones that were 40 m high.

    According to the latest wind atlas there are areas with constant high wind speed in Armenia but those sites are not easily accessible. There are no sites like Palm Spring, CA where it is flat with high wind velocity and one can easily install wind towers. These sites are on top of mountains with no roads or nearby transmission lines. Besides, we did a study and present road from the Black Sea port to Armenia has turns that trucks carrying wind turbine blades cannot pass through them. Keep in mind that wind turbine blades must be imported and they cannot be separated to small parts to transport. Therefore, presently wind energy is not a viable option for Armenia.

    There were a group of investors from California that were planning to build a 10 MW solar power plant in Armenia but after some preliminary studies they concluded it will not be economically feasible. Presently Armenian government has an RFP out for a 50 MW solar power plant near Lake Sevan. This is a PPP project and we need to wait to see what type of proposal will be submitted by international firms. Solar energy is good alternative and it has become popular in Armenia with introduction of net metering but price is still high.

    Many small hydro plants are built in Armenia in recent years but unfortunately some of them are not done correctly and as a result they produce only a fraction of the installed capacity and are damaging eco system of the rivers. In my opinion some of these plants need to be eliminated so others could operate properly and to minimize impact on the eco system. It is still possible to build two more mid-size hydro power plants (50 to 75 MW) in Armenia but there is not much of room to build more small ones (less than 10 MW).

    The idea that wind and solar can be a replacement for the nuclear which is consider as a base load, is not yet realistic for Armenia.

  12. Thank for all information which were given by above individuals. I am not expert in this field, but according to my knowledge, what maks me anxious is that in case of any earthquake econ system of Armenia will be in danger.

  13. Turkey is building reactors, why should Armenia scrap plans for new plants? Nuclear energy is safe, effective, and affordable. Armenia should stop listening to groups telling her to go with renewable energy, it is expensive and leads to economic stagnation. Turkey will power ahead economically and technologically because of cheap nuclear energy, but Armenia will fall behind and fade away.

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