By Sara Rajabova
Armenia is unlikely to close down its obsolete nuclear power plant in Metsamor, which the EU labeled as a danger to the entire region several years ago.
"The 33-year old nuclear power plant in Metsamor can be closed only after the construction of a new power facility," Secretary of Armenia's National Security Council, Artur Baghdasaryan, was quoted by local media as saying.
Baghdasaryan said Armenia closely cooperates with the EU and Russia regarding the issue of building a new nuclear power facility.
He noted that there is no talk about rapid closure of the existing nuclear power plant.
"Armenia is making efforts to build a new power unit. When a new modern power unit is constructed, simultaneously, the issue of maintaining the old power unit will be considered too," he said, adding that the EU understands the position of the Armenian side.
Baghdasaryan said that as long as Armenia will not be provided with alternative energy, it cannot take the path of closing nuclear power plants.
Last week, the head of the European Union Delegation to Armenia Traian Hristea said that the EU continues to ask Armenia to stop using the Metsamor nuclear power plant as soon as possible, Mediamax news agency reported.
Hristea noted that further use of the Metsamor nuclear power plant is one of the main issues on the agenda of Armenia-EU relations.
"We are still concerned about the use of the nuclear power plant. We have repeatedly appealed to the government of Armenia asking it to develop a program for the conservation of the nuclear plant as soon as possible," the diplomat said.
Metsamor is one of the few remnants of the old Soviet nuclear reactors built without primary containment structures. Only a few of these first generation water-moderated reactors are still in use today, being past or near their original retirement ages, but what sets the Metsamor nuclear power plant apart from all the others is the fact that it's located in a potentially hazardous seismic zone.
Armenia turned down the EU's offer of a 200 million euro ($289 million) loan to finance Metsamor's shutdown. The US government also called the plant "aging and dangerous", and urged construction of a new one.
The EU again called on Armenia to stop the operation of the Metsamor power station in 2011. It offered Armenia $100 million in financial aid to meet the country`s demand for power.
The lifespan of Metsamor expired in 2010, but Armenia and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts have agreed to continue the operation of the plant until 2016.
Metsamor NPP was built in 1970. After the devastating earthquake in Spitak in 1988 it was closed, but in 1995, the operation of the station was resumed and a second reactor was launched despite international criticism.
The nuclear power plant poses a serious threat to the security of the entire region, especially to the neighboring countries - Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Therefore, the three countries demand immediate shutdown of the plant in view of the danger.
According to environmentalists and scientists from all over the region, seismic activity in the area renders Metsamor nuclear plant an extreme risk even if a new generation reactor were to be built. Given the large number of minor earthquakes in the area in the last ten years, as well as the intensification of the seismic processes, scientists predict that in the event of a major accident at Metsamor, not only Armenia, but also other countries of the South Caucasus and Middle East states would be severely affected.