The Metsamor nuclear power station in Armenia is one of a few remaining nuclear reactors from its era, those which were built without primary containment structures. There are 5 of these water-moderated Soviet units left, all of which are defunct or nearing retirement, 4 of which are in Russia, and the last – in Armenia. The main difference between Armenia’s power station and the other 4 is that the South Caucasus region where Armenia sits is a zone of high seismic activity–in fact, it rests upon some of the Earth’s most earthquake-prone terrain.
Metsamor located 32 km (20 miles) west of Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, has long been a spark for controversy. The geographic position of the plant has caused many to fear that a massive nuclear disaster could be imminent, especially when considering that roughly 76 km (47 miles) east of the plant, the city of Gyumri was razed to the ground following a quake in 1988, leaving thousands dead. The Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates collide in this region, and cause regular and highly destructive earthquakes across the Caucasus, eastern Turkey and northwestern Iran.
Metsamor is no stranger to high-levels of concern–similar to the Chernobyl reactor in its design, Metsamor was shut down following the Chernobyl disaster but was arguably forced reopened during the Nagorno-Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as Armenians were left without electricity after Azerbaijan blocked energy supplies to the nation. Again, at the early part of the 2000’s the European Union also made multiple attempts to shut the plant down.
Following the Fukushima disaster in the wake of Japan’s tsunami in 2011, criticisms and concerns over Armenia’s ‘nuclear time-bomb’ arose anew, with mounting international pressure for Armenia to find viable energy alternatives. In spite of this increasing pressure the Armenian government manintains that the plant is safe and economically beneficial for the country. Critics, however, are not so optimistic, saying that the plant does not meet modern safety standards and that the combination of design and location make Metsamor one of the most dangerous nuclear plants in the world.