Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant: Danger for the South Caucasus Region

Construction, type of reactor and location in the seismic active zone:

Construction of Metsamor NPP began in 1969. Two model VVER 440/V-230 reactors each of
407.5 MWe gross (376 MWe net), were built at Metsamor and supplied power from 1976 and 1980
respectively. Design life was 30 years Metsamor1.

This type reactor is an example of one of the earliest pressurized-water nuclear plant designs,
developed by the Soviets between 1956 and 1970. VVER 440s share one characteristic with
Chernobyl that has been a continuing concern to many who live nearby. Metsamor NPP is one
of the mere handfuls of remaining nuclear reactors of its kind that were built without primary
containment structures2.

VVER 440s rely on an "accident localization system," designed to handle small ruptures. In the
event of a large rupture, the system would vent directly to the atmosphere. "They cannot cope with
large primary circuit breaks," the Nuclear Energy Institute's 1997 Source Book on Soviet nuclear
plants concluded3. "As with most Soviet-designed plants, electricity production by the VVER-440
Model V230s came at the expense of safety."4

VVER-440/230-270 type reactors developed as civilian power plants, similar to international
pressurized water reactors (PWR). It employs low-enriched uranium oxide fuel held in thin metal-
clad rods that are cooled by pressurized light water. The pressurized water from the reactor is
pumped through steam generators, where steam is produced by transfer of heat to the separate
secondary coolant. The steam is then routed to the turbine generators to produce roughly 440 mega
watts of electricity. These reactors also don't meet international standards, they have many design

1. Decommissioning Costs of WWER-440 Nuclear Power Plants: IEAE technical document 2002. Page 11;

World Nuclear Association, Nuclear Power in Armenia

2. National Geographic Magazine, Marianne Lavelle and Josie Garthwaite, April 11, 2011 http://

3. Nuclear Energy Institute “Soviet-Designed Nuclear Power Plants in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Armenia, the Czech

Republic, the Slovak Republic, Hungary and Bulgaria. 1997. Page 17.

4. Ibis, page18.deficiencies including the lack of a containment building, inadequate fire protection systems,

unreliable instrumentation and control systems, and deficient systems for cooling the reactor core in
case of an emergency5.

The EU, in particular, classified the light water-cooled reactors VVER-440 Model V230 as the
“oldest and least reliable” category of all the Soviet reactors built in Eastern Europe and the former
Soviet Union6. Over the past decade, the European Union, living in close proximity to the old
Soviet plants, used leverage where it could to get some of them shuttered. Four VVER 440 units
in Bulgaria and two in Slovakia were closed as a condition of those countries joining the European

Metsamor NPP is situated in a highly seismically active zone and is a source of potential danger.

Closing and restart of the Metsamor NPP:

Metsamor power plant in Armenia was closed shortly after the December 1989 earthquake (killed
25,000 people and left 500,000 homeless). It is worth to remind that, the epicenter of the earthquake
was situated about 100 kilometers away from Metsamor.

The United States and other G-7 countries have been vehemently opposed to the restart of the
Metsamor reactors due to safety concerns. Both units were listed in the Department of Energy’s
report on the most dangerous nuclear reactors7. Despite international opposition, however Unit 2 at
Metsamor was restarted in October 1995.

In accordance with the World Nuclear Outlook 1995 issued by U.S. Department of Energy,
Armenian Regulatory Agency allowed the restart of Metsamor unit-2 without many upgrades that
international experts believed were needed8.

Although Armenia requested financial assistance to restart these reactors, none was granted by the
G-7 countries in March 1994.

Because of its age and that the plant is situated in the middle of the most seismically active and
dangerous fault, it was determined by IAEA experts that, the Metsamor NPP unit-2 can operate
only until the end of 2004, provided, if the facility complies with all the IAEA’s applicable safety
and technological upgrading requirements.

Prior to restart of Metsamor unit-2, the Armenian Government has signed an agreement with
IAEA and European Union to receive necessary financial and technological support to upgrade
and operate the unit-2 close to the international standards, and has agreed to close permanently the

5 .

6. The Jamestown Foundation, Eurasia Daily Monitor, Volume: 6, Issue: 103, May 29, 2009,

7. US Department of Energy, Office of Energy Intelligence, Most Dangerous Reactors, (Washington D.C., Departmentof Energy, May 1995)

U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Coal, Nuclear, Electric and Alternate Fuels: Energy Information Administration/
World Nuclear Outlook 1995, Page 14.

8. Matsemor unit-2 by the end of year 20049.

Armenia also turned down the EU's loan offer to finance Metsamor's shutdown. Alexis Louber,
the head of the EU delegation in Yerevan, said the £67 million of aid would be frozen until the
Armenian government gave a definite date for the closure of the power station. "In principle,
nuclear plants should not be built in highly active seismic zones. This plant is a danger to the entire
region. When the agreement was signed in 1998 to close it in 2004, we wanted to close it as quickly
as possible. "We realise that until alternative energy sources are in place it is not possible to do
that, but it might be possible by 2006, and certainly could be by 2010." He was also alarmed at the
method of delivery of nuclear fuel, using Russian transport planes. "It is the same as flying around
a potential nuclear bomb. It does not happen anywhere else in the world; transportation is by sea or

Safety of the Metsamor NPP:

The operational safety review performed by the IAEA Operational Safety Review Team (OSART)
from 16 May to 2 June 2011 in the Metsamor NPP, intended just to observe operational safety
performance at the nuclear power plant, and whose report will be kept in secret by Armenian
Governments. OSART mission reviewed the factors affecting the management of safety and the
performance of personnel11. However, Design Safety Review, Safety Assessment Capacity and
Competency Review, Review of Accident Management Programmes, Periodic Safety Review
and Seismic Safety Evaluations are very important in order to measure and realize the dangerous
situation in the Metsamor NPP.

Little information is available regarding Armenia’s management of spent fuel.

9. U.S. Department of Energy, Office of International Nuclear Safety and Cooperation, Status report “Ten years of safety improvements” 2003, page 51.





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