US about Armenia's Metsamor - 'place in shadow of world’s most dangerous nuclear plant’

Yesterday, Washington Post published a photo collection by its photographer Stefano Morelli showing everyday life of the workers at Armenia's nuclear power plant and the citizens of Metsamor, where the NPP is located, describing the city as the place "between life and death".

The article says that about 20 miles from Armenia’s capital city of Yerevan sits the antiquated Metsamor nuclear power plant, which "has long been a cause for concern for at least two reasons: It was built without containment vessels, and it sits in a seismic zone". The article says that it was closed in 1989 after a devastating earthquake hit nearby. "In 2011, National Geographic even suggested that it might be the world’s most dangerous nuclear plant," the author recalls.

"According to a 1995 Washington Post article, the plant was reopened because Armenia was desperate to have energy after its neighbor, Azerbaijan, imposed an energy blockade (because of Armenia's occupation of the Azerbaijani territories - VK). As many as one-third of Armenia’s 3.6 million people have left, for months at a time or longer, because winters are unbearable and factories stand idle,” the newspaper cited the article published 22 years ago as saying.

Despite the risks, the power plant is still open, and people still live in the town created for the plant’s workers. There seem to be few alternatives, considering that the plant produces a significant chunk of the country’s energy. According to the World Nuclear Association, the power plant provided 31% of the total electricity for the country in 2016. Photographer Stefano Morelli visited the town in January to document its way of life. 

"What he found was 10,000 people (1,000 who still work at the plant) living in a town of old Soviet buildings, caught “in suspension between doubts and fears, between poverty and survival, between life and death," the article says. 

A leading analyst of the National Energy Security Fund, a lecturer at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, Igor Yushkov, speaking with a correspondent of Vestnik Kavkaza, noted that Armenia is not able to find an adequate replacement for the nuclear power plant yet. "Let's say that the Armenian NPP will stop suddenly - it will be a big blow to the country, because it will have to increase the import of electricity from other countries. But its neighbors do not have the capacity to supply electricity to Armenia: Georgia's deficit is 1000 MW per year, Turkey will have deficit  until Rosatom builds the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, Iran does not have enough power generation, and there is a shortage of energy in the south of Russia. In fact, Armenia could buy some energy only from Azerbaijan," he stressed.

 

At the same time, problems at the Armenian nuclear power plant pose a blow to the Russian nuclear power industry as well. "The entire region will suffer from the disaster at this station, not only Armenia. If the accident happens, it will affect the entire nuclear power industry in the world in general and Russia's prospects in particular. All Western companies will say that it is not just accident, it is the accident is at the Soviet nuclear power plant, and this will affect Rosatom perspectives," Igor Yushkov noted.

In Arshaluys, people need to cut wood in the fields near the nuclear plant, because burning wood is the only way to heat a house in this area. 

An evening view of Metsamor. At midnight, the Armenian government switches the power off the street lamps to save energy, leaving Metsamor in the dark.

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