How to Assess the Most Dangerous Nuclear Power Plants: The Case of Armenia

Following the collapse of the USSR, the new authorities of independent Armenia were faced in 1993 with a difficult decision: plunged into economic decline since World War I, Armenia was either to reopen its only nuclear power plant closed after a devastating earthquake in the north of the country in 1988 or find new sources of energy to replace the 40% of the electricity generated by its Nuclear Power Plant (ANPP). The decision was unanimous—in the absence of other imminent sources of electricity, reactivating the plant was the only way out of the energy crisis that had, amongst other crisis, hit the country.

Located 35 kilometers west of Yerevan, the capital of the country, the ANPP lies on one of the most earthquake-prone terrains with magnitudes up to 8; however, the plant is only equipped to respond to earthquakes up to 7. Adding to the hazardous nature of the location, the plant is increasingly aging, having an original lifetime planned for 30 years. The plant is built with two units of VVER-440 (Model V-270) reactors – the first of these two units started production in 1976 and the second started production in 1980. Constructed in a previous era where technological improvements were still evolving, the model reactors (similar to the ones of Chernobyl Crisis of 1986) do not have containment buildings as in the western reactors. Consequently, the design and location of ANPP make it among the most dangerous nuclear plants in the world.

In 2019, the Armenian authorities were faced with urging concerns from their neighbours but also from international structures including the European Union who insist on the impending closure or modernization of the station. The question that is implicitly underlined by these concerns and the situation of the ANPP, is the one of coinciding safe and cost-effective energy for countries in development. Ultimately, who is to make the final decision on the immediate closure of a nuclear plant if a country disregards the safety issues related to it? And what are the stakes for these countries relying on a single source of electricity?

Angelica Djorkaeff

Picture by BouarfMetsamor aerienCC BY-SA 3.0

 

 

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