Armenia’s political struggle strained by collapsing nuclear plant

Armenia’s political struggle strained by collapsing nuclear plant

By | Amber Coakley

March 9, 2021 

Image credit: “File:Metsamor nuclear power plant, cooling towers (Armenia, June 2015).jpg” by Adam Jones is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Now that a decades-long territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan has come to a close, officials on both sides have agreed to work on infrastructure development in the war-torn Caucasus region. At the start of 2021, the two countries moved to end their war at the guidance of a Russian-brokered peace deal. The agreement couldn’t come soon enough as Armenia’s collapsing infrastructure has only heightened political struggle.

Russian interventionism is almost expected as the country stands as Armenia’s main energy supplier. Through governmental jurisdiction, the distribution of both natural gas and nuclear fuel is made possible. Additionally, specialized technicians to run the plants are crucial to maintaining energy stabilization. 

According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, concrete steps to further develop transport infrastructure will lead to a boost in the region’s economy.

“I am confident that the implementation of these agreements will benefit both the Armenian and Azerbaijani people and, without any doubt, will benefit the region as a whole,” he stated.

Closer Look: Brenda Schaffer calls out dangerous powerplant

Side column by Editorial 

Brenda Schaffer, a renowned energy expert, and a voice amid the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has called on Armenia to close its dangerous Mestamor nuclear facility. Schaffer’s report appeared in the Bulletin of Atomic Sciences on March 5. Schaffer noted that Armenia’s government planned to close the plant for five months in 2021 to develop significant upgrades in the plant, but she noted that the closer should be permanent, as the facility is not structured to meet modern update standards. 

Schaffer has been a vocal critic against the plant since at least December 2019. She called attention to the risks of the Metsamor plant created by the recent major earthquake in the region. Schaffer noted that the Metsamor plant has no secondary containment vessel while operating in a seismic region. 

YouTube channel Mahanology comments on the threats of the Metsamor plant. 

Schaffer likewise noted that the European Union has repeatedly called for the plant’s closure in its progress updates. She cited a specific case in 2011. 

Schaffer highlighted that Armenia, as it has penned deals with the EU to close the plant, has also cooperated with Russia to extend the reactor’s life. Armenian President Sarkissian has likewise fumbled on the terms of agreement over the plant, which are explicit in the literature, but which the politician has attempted to argue as being otherwise.  


Back to the Armenia’s political struggle…

Armenian Premier Nikol Pashinian echoed those sentiments by noting with economic innovations comes reliable security guarantees. He said the country is ready to work constructively towards achieving that goal. Nonetheless, the lingering tensions of a freshly ended war have the Armenian military weary of headway resolutions. Progress is sure to take time as these apprehensions have been present since Armenia occupied Nagorno-Karabakh back in 1991.

Aside from infrastructure and economic development, the Armenian government has also been focused on the fate of its Metsamor nuclear power plant. This Soviet-era plant first began operations in 1977 but was shut down 11 years later following the Chernobyl disaster as well as the deadly Spitak earthquake. The plant was then reopened in 1995, after financial backing from Russia, with an operating license that was set to expire in 2016. Armenia later pushed that date to 2021, however, has signaled plans to continue further. 

This decision has sparked major controversy as this is the only remaining Soviet-era reactor without a containment vessel. The Armenian government had originally announced an upgrade to the plant, however, internationally safety standards are at a far reach. The EU has urged the country to permanently close the plant. Officials cited the safety of neighboring countries as well as the recent agreement to increase transportation and infrastructure developments. This could be Armenia’s golden ticket to a path of safer and more diverse energy repositories.

With Russian influence, the fate of Armenia’s nuclear power plant remains up in the air. Though energy dependence through modern advances sounds like the right direction, it may not be the easiest path to take initially. The safety of the South Caucasus region is dependent on Armenia’s efforts to take initiative to fix its collapsing infrastructure and close an aging plant that could potentially radiate Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, and southern Europe.