Should Armenia’s nuclear power plant be renewed or replaced completely?
Photo: Gayane Mkrtchyan, JAMnews
Armenia is actively discussing the fate of its fourty-one-year-old nuclear power plant: should it be closed and a new one built in its place, or should its life-span be extended?
The Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant is 16 kilometers away from the Armenian-Turkish border and, safety-wise, is a sensitive topic for both Armenia and Turkey.
In the agreement ‘On Comprehensive and Expanded Partnership’ between the EU and Armenia, the text of which was recently released, the nuclear power plant is also mentioned. The agreement states that the plant, which was put into operation in 1976, must be closed down and replaced by a new one. However, it does not specifically mention deadlines or practical measures of funding.
“I think that we have the task set before us to establish dates for closing the nuclear power plant. Sooner or later we will have to face this problem as we can’t use it [the plant] forever,” says Armen Manvelyan, an expert on energy geopolitics and issues of international security.
The Armenian authorities have been promising for many years to build a new nuclear plant. This topic was included in the election campaign of current president Serzh Sargsyan. Vice Prime Minister Vache Gabrielyan also recently stated that the authorities are going ahead with this plan and the construction of the plant is expected to start in 2022/2023.
However, the authorities have recently publicly voiced their doubts that this is worth doing.
“Let’s say that we have a new nuclear power station. But then imagine that, let’s say tomorrow, modern technology will allow us to receive the same amount of energy without a nuclear power station. And then our energy, produced with the help of the nuclear station, will cost much more for consumers. So what path should we go down? The path of modern technology of course,” the Minister of Justice David Arutyunyan told journalists.
However, many experts in Armenia do not agree with him.
Economist Vilen Khacatryan says that the world has still not come to a point where nuclear energy would be replaceable by solar, wind or other sources of energy.
“The closing of the nuclear station will worsen the position of Armenia within the region. Moreover, the process of closing a nuclear station is not simple. We need years for this,” says Khachatryan.
Currently, the Metsamor power station provides for 40% of the energy needs of Armenian consumers. This is the only nuclear power station in the South Caucasus. The nuclear power plant building is able to withstand a magnitude nine earthquake which is important as Armenia is in an unstable zone.
For the construction of a new nuclear power station, expert Vahe Davtyan says Armenia will need five billion dollars, and that the price is only for a plant of medium capacity – 600 megawatts. In other words, serious investment is needed. But closing the station, he says, will deprive Armenia of the possibility of exporting electricity and it will deal a blow against the security of the country.
“A possible technology that might replace nuclear energy is hydroelectricity. Currently, hydroelectric stations provide for 20 – 25 % of the nation’s electricity needs. Other renewable sources of energy are also being developed, but these are long-term perspectives. Without the nuclear power station, Armenia will lose a rather accessible form of energy. In the conditions of the current blockade [ed. from Turkey and Azerbaijan] this will be a rather great blow for the country,” says Vahe Davtyan.