Marianne Lavelle and Josie Garthwaite
For National Geographic News
Published April 11, 2011
This story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visit The Great Energy Challenge.
In the shadow of Mount Ararat, the beloved and sorrowful national symbol of Armenia, stands a 31-year-old nuclear plant that is no less an emblem of the country’s resolve and its woe.
The Metsamor power station is one of a mere handful of remaining nuclear reactors of its kind that were built without primary containment structures. All five of these first-generation water-moderated Soviet units are past or near their original retirement ages, but one salient fact sets Armenia’s reactor apart from the four in Russia.
Metsamor lies on some of Earth’s most earthquake-prone terrain.
In the wake of Japan’s quake-and-tsunami-triggered Fukushima Daiichi crisis, Armenia’s government faces renewed questions from those who say the fateful combination of design and location make Metsamor among the most dangerous nuclear plants in the world.
Seven years ago, the European Union’s envoy was quoted as calling the facility “a danger to the entire region,” but Armenia later turned down the EU’s offer of a 200 million euro ($289 million) loan to finance Metsamor’s shutdown. The United States government, which has called the plant “aging and dangerous,” underwrote a study that urged construction of a new one.
Plans to replace Metsamor after 2016—with a new nuclear plant at the same location—are under way. But until then, Armenia has little choice but to keep Metsamor’s turbines turning. As Armenians learned in the bone-chilling cold and dark days when the plant was closed down for several years, Metsamor provides more than 40 percent of power for a nation that is isolated from its neighbors and closed off from other sources of energy.
via Is Armenia’s Nuclear Plant the World’s Most Dangerous?.