Who is Responsible for the Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant?
The Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant is in Armenia within 16 km of Turkish border, and almost 25 km from Yerevan.
It is of the VVER-440 type, 2×408 mwe. Unit 1 was installed in 1976, whereas 2nd unit entered into operation in 1980. The plant worked for many years. Finally, their economic life is over.
I was in Metsamor in 1976, within the framework of the United Nations Development Program, UNIDO. I was in Moscow for a 3-month training. There were 40 young engineers from Africa, South America and Far East countries who joined the program. People from 40 different countries, 40 different cultures were gathered there together.
In the last month of our stay in Moscow, the program manager said, “Get prepared, we have a new nuclear power plant, we are conducting a trial operation, and we shall go and visit there”. We flew at a low-altitude for 4-hours in a propeller airplane from Moscow to Yerevan. The ears and bodies had to endure a lot of noise. Finally, when we landed at the airport, we settled in a hotel that is a product of the Tsardom period. From our hotel room, the mountain of Ararat was visible with all its glory, on the other side of the border.
The next morning we went to the Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant. Metsamor sounded like a very high-tech project at that time. They invited us into the control room with illuminated dashboards, lot of lamps on the walls, TV sets, and all staff dressed in protective white overalls. With just a few pounds of nuclear fuel, they could supply almost all of the electricity demand of Armenia.
During my Ankara METU University education, we took a course on nuclear energy in our senior year, but Metsamor seemed like science fiction set in a very distant future. Then the trip was over, along with the program. We returned home, but the Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant remained on our minds that week. We hadn’t even gone near the nucleus building, we merely walked into the remote-control room, and saw 4-air cooling towers.
Most of the Russian staff who explained the power station to us were very cool. They stood at high pedestals next to us -the stone age technology engineers, and we listened to what they told us as if they were fairy tales. The lamps in the control room, the flow charts on the wall, a few black and white TV’s, they all sound very primitive and simple today. We have lots of sophisticated tools now in the control rooms of our local power plants.
Then, as the years passed, Metsamor power plant became the oldest example former the Soviet period in terms security. One unit is already off service, while the other one is being pushed to work. The plant is located in a high-risk earthquake zone. The waste disposal situation is unclear, there is no waste agreement in place, and the emergency evacuation plans are not immediately available. Main pressure parts are worn-out and outdated. They have to be replaced, but there is no money to fund it. The nuclear plant is in terrible condition for all we know.
The Metsamor power plant VVER-440 is the same type as the Chernobyl power plant which had caused a technological and environmental disaster in Ukraine. There is no concrete set around the nuclear core. Nuclear Core is in graphite coating.
Although the nuclear plant is still in operation, the nucleus is like a ticking bomb. Something can go wrong at any time, and as a result of the core melting, Chernobyl type radioactive material may start to crack. Most of it is plutonium. The spread of radiation has a half-life of tens of thousands of years. The plant obviously requires stricter control measures to be in place.
Russians say, “Let’s demolish the existing plant completely, let’s construct a new power plant at 1000 MWe”. But local people do not want that. Everyone is appealing, including most of the European community. The European Union tied Armenia and Georgia somehow to themselves, by providing them easy visa facilitation.
For the renewal and upgrading of the Metsamor nuclear power plant, European Union has prepared a financing program of € 100m. This figure was raised to 200m € in proportion to the gravity of the situation, but the situation is very difficult and expensive to improve.
In 1976, we asked the managers of the plant,
“Why did you build a Nuclear Power Plant here?”
“There is no natural resources, and there is insufficient hydraulic power plants.”
Now they have the most dangerous Nuclear Power Plant in the world. Moreover, Metsamor, is in an earthquake zone. They have seen earthquakes of 7-9 on Richter scale, three times in the last century,
the fault line of the latest one at a distance of only 75km away.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has limited measures to shut down this plant. A nuclear threat may break out at any moment. In order to shut down this plant completely, all countries need to assist and apply pressure. It is only 16km away from Turkey’s Eastern borders. Still, there is no appeal coming from the Turkish side whereas neighboring Azerbaijanis are screaming against it at every platform.
This is an unfavorable situation where we may all be affected tremendously.
On the other hand, we have to reconsider the Akkuyu nuclear project with the 40-year Metsamor experience we have. Today, when we can have a cheap unit electricity cost from renewable energy sources, Akkuyu with its15-year guaranteed purchase price of 12.35 US cents per kwh price, does not make economic sense any more. The situation is dire.
Nuclear waste control, emergency evacuation plans, earthquake analysis, and very hot Mediterranean cooling water thermodynamic problems must be reviewed immediately.