Igor Yushkov: "Accidents at Armenia's Metsamor NPP will affect Rosatom"
Armenian nuclear power plant in Metsamor once again found itself in the center of world's attention after media reported that the EU demanded to shut down this Soviet power plant that has been operating since 1977, thus making Armenia to give up aroung one third of all of its electricity. This demand is of one of the conditions of the European association. Yerevan claims that Metsamor NPP is absolutely safe and that with Russia's it will operate until 2027. A leading analyst of the National Energy Security Fund, a lecturer at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, Igor Yushkov, discussed problems and prospects of the Armenian NPP in Metsamor in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza.
- What can be done to preserve such significant energy source, while ensuring safety of the entire region from possible accidents at nuclear power plant?
- There are two options. The first option - Rosatom can modernize this plant, in other words, build a new power unit with greater capacity at this Armenian NPP. Now there are old VVER-440 reactors, and Rosatom is currently building VVER-1200, which has three times more power and can be easily constructed at the current plant. This will be the best option for Armenia. The second option is to constantly monitor and carry out maintenance of operating reactor, called "Armenian NPP-2". Decommissioning of this second VVER-440 reactor is scheduled for 2026, since it was introduced later than the first power unit, and, thanks to Rosatom's support, it can operate for another 10 years.
- In this case, why the EU demands to close this NPP?
- Western regulators are demanding to close almost all power units built during the Soviet era. We saw what happened to the Lithuanian Ignalina NPP and it continues to happen with other post-Soviet republics. In addition, Europeans are wary of anything Rosatom constructs in any country, look at the Belarusian nuclear power plant, for example. This is especially true for Baltic countries - they always say that Russian technologies are bad, unsafe, although the IAEA, fox example, recognizes that Russian stations meet all world requirements and that Russian technology of 4+ generations of reactors is one of the safest, since it is based on post-Fukushima standards.
It's interesting that the only country that didn't have to close the Soviet nuclear power plants is Ukraine. Ukrainians agreed to switch stations to America's Westinghouse fuel assembly. The fact that there were no demands can also be associated with the fact that then it will be necessary for Ukraine to switch to generation of energy from coal or gas, and Kiev is already asking the EU for financial assistance in order to do this, and in the future it will only ask for more.
- Who will help Armenia with decommissioning of this nuclear power plant?
- Armenia is more vulnerable in this sense, because it won't be able to ask Europeans or Americans for money for construction of replacement reactor, or at least for decommissioning of the plant. I would like to note that decommissioning costs a lot, and there are not so many companies in the world that can help with the so-called back-end stage. One of the leaders in this area is Rosatom, especially if it's about stations that were built in the Soviet era by predecessors of the current Rosatom. This means that Russian state corporation will work on decommissioning of Armenian nuclear power plant, and Europeans obviously won't give money for this. They demand to close this plant, but they won't help to close it or even help Armenia to live without it.
- What sources of electricity in the region could replace Armenia's nuclear power plant?
- Let's say that Armeniam NPP will suddenly stop working - it will be a huge enough blow to the republic, because it will have to increase import of electricity from other states. But its neighbors don't have enough capacity to supply electricity to Armenia: there's 1,000 MW per year deficit in Georgia, deficit in Turkey will continue until Rosatom completes Akkuyu nuclear power station, Iran doesn't have enough electricity, situation in Iraq is the same. There's also lack of energy in the south of Russia: free energy goes to Crimea through the energy bridge. Armenia can buy energy only from Azerbaijan.
This means that none of its neighbors will compensate for closure of this nuclear power plant. Armenia will have to create schedule of electricity supplies to different areas or use energy reserves, if they will still exist by that time. So when this nuclear power plant will be decommissioned it will be very difficult to replace it.
- What are the possible consequences of accidents at Metsamor NPP?
- The entire region will suffer from technogenic catastrophe at this station, not only Armenia itself. In addition, accidents at any nuclear power plant will cause a new wave of distrust towards all nuclear power plants: you should remember that after Fukushima accident South Korea closed all of its nuclear power plants, a number of European countries decided to do the same, while others refused to build new ones. That's why if there will be an accident, it will affect the entire nuclear power industry and Russia in particular, because many countries will question safety of nuclear power plants. All Western companies will begin to say that it wasn't just an accident, but an accident at Soviet, Russian nuclear power plant, and this will affect Rosatom, its construction sites and prospects for projects in other countries. It will happen even if nuclear contamination will be avoided thanks to emergency stop of the plant.