Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant. Armenia’s Sword of Damocles
Posted on July. 25. 2020
“While many technological measures can be taken to secure safety at nuclear power plant, such measures on their own cannot cover great risks”. Naoto Kan
Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian, Ph.D.
week ago, I was having a casual conversation about the Azerbaijan’s military
aggression against the Armenian people living in the Tavush province with my
house sitter in Yerevan. Despite the fact that she takes care of a nice
apartment with modern amenities in the center of the city, she said she was in
a quandary whether to stay in Yerevan or move to another place farther from
Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant (M-NPP) . Her perceived dangerous predicament was
based on the official threat by Azerbaijan that they would blow up the M-NPP.
Psychologically speaking, she was in a situation from which extrication was
difficult especially a frightening one. My house sitter’s plight most likely is
shared by many people living in Armenia. Armenians around the world should know
and appreciate the valid fear gripping their brothers and sisters in our Homeland
and it is high time that they ought to do something about it.
Utterly unprovoked, Azerbaijan began on July 12, 2020 its military offensive against Armenia’s Tavush province. It is considered the worst shelling since the so-called “4-Day War” in April of 2016. The resolute enemy is attempting to destroy military positions as well as targeting civilian populations of Armenia’s border villages and towns along the line of demarcation of the two countries. The aim is to force Armenia into compliance for the return of Artsakh by resorting to fear tactics.
reported on July 17, 2020 that Vagif Dargyahly, the Press Service Head of the
Azerbaijani Military Department has unabashedly declared the following warning:
“The Armenian side should not forget that the new missile systems that are
in the arsenal of our army make it possible to launch high-precision strikes at
the Metsamor nuclear power plant, which could lead to a great catastrophe for
Armenia.” Indeed, it would unleash an irreparable loss of many innocent
civilians of the population of Armenia. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan succinctly
characterized the threat by stating: “Azerbaijan’s announcement of
striking Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant is [a] crime against humanity.”
might consider the threat to be idle or patented barking. However, the
consequence of being true is too costly to ignore it. Therefore, three projects
should be undertaken on the double: One is to report the threat as a terrorist
act to the international authorities to condemn Azerbaijan for its criminal
intent and to warn them of its dire consequences–especially, that Armenia may
retaliate in self-defense to establish a long and a wide buffer zone deep into
the Azerbaijani territory. The second one is to find ways and means for
additional fortification of the M-NPP facility against military attacks. The
third one is to mobilize the Armenian nation to save itself from being a sitting
duck to Azerbaijan’s wayward and uncivilized acts of aggression.
this article, I shall only address the third project of mitigating and
eventually saving Armenia from this eminent danger by beginning to decommission
the M-NPP for the safety and security of the nation and for the people’s peace
of mind, especially of that of my house sitter in Yerevan.
you are aware by now, the matter became terribly serious when, within a few
days of the aggression, Azerbaijan began to threaten to blow up the M-NPP. The M-NPP, also known as the Armenian Nuclear
Power Plant, is the only nuclear power plant in the South Caucasus, located 36
kilometers west of the Armenian capital city of Yerevan. The vast majority of
the Diaspora is not alive to the danger; they are not even aware of its
existence; it is only 16 miles from the Turkish border; it is within a striking
distance of the Azerbaijani forces. Armenia seems truly a babe in the woods or
an easy target for the Azeri known cruelties.
ominous threat of a military strike over the plant is like the sword of
Damocles, a closely impending disaster for all Armenians. This time, it would
be a “nuclear genocide” of the race by those perpetrators who did not
hesitate to try to annihilate the entire Armenian nation during the 1915-1923
Genocide of the 20th century and again during the Karabakh liberation war of
of us who choose to adopt a wild animal as pet such as a tiger cub, would run
the risk of being attacked by it when it grows up. In the early 1970s, while
the other countries in the South Caucasus refused to have a nuclear plant built
within the confines of their territories during the Soviet era, Armenia
acquiesced for a nuclear power plant in the middle of its densely populated
tiny country. Our leaders back then had failed to foresee its obvious future
implications. They put themselves at the mercy of their adversaries by exposing
Armenia’s soft belly for anyone to threaten to slice it when conflicts arise.
from its economic benefits, from the perspective of safety and security, we
cannot have the sword of Damocles hanging over Armenia’s head.
long as Mount Ararat remains in captivity, so long as Artsakh maintains its
independence and sovereignty, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Armenia will stay as
eternal enemies and engage in a war of attrition.
to the legend, to lie under the sword of Damocles, hanging by a single horse
hair, means to be in a position or situation of eminent danger of destruction.
Armenia should opt to get out of that highly precarious position.
say that M-NPP is Armenia’s Achilles heel is no exaggeration by all counts. It
would only take another ruthless officer of the Azerbaijani armed forces, such
as cruel Ramil Safarov, to send a drone to drop a bomb on the nuclear facility
to create the apocalyptic disaster for the Armenian people. Anyone with any
modicum of elasticity of the mind, with any power of macabre imagination, would
not have foreseen an Army officer of
Azerbaijan like Safarov would take an ax and chop a sleeping Armenian solider
into pieces?! And later, this criminal was hailed as a hero by his own head of
state. Well, it happened and it may very well happen again. So, let us get our
act together and work diligently to eliminate this specter of danger from
hovering over our heads.
swing of the social pendulum from Soviet way of thinking to an independent,
sovereign way of life would find many adherents of the idea of decommissioning
the M-NPP. Based on an extensive study, here is my stepwise approach to
dismantling M-NPP without creating an energy shortage crisis for Armenia and
yet protecting the facility from any wanton act of cruelty:
One: Armenia and its vast Diaspora should establish a not-for-profit
organization for such a Herculean project of dismantling M-NPP facilities.
While Armenia has many experts in the nuclear sciences, so does the Diaspora.
We do do have dedicated volunteer experts working on this project to cut the
prohibitive costs of decommissioning a nuclear plant. When Armenia asks for
help, the experts in the Diaspora would rise to the occasion and try to help
the Homeland get rid of such a potentially deadly sleeping monster.
Step Two: Stop all renovation plans
to modernize the M-NPP facilities, which would lengthen or later complicate the
process of decommissioning. Facing an
incessant enemy who prefers “tanks to talks” day in and day out, it
is only wise to think of covering one’s national security weaknesses by
foregoing some of the cheap sources of energy, which may prove to be deadly to
the entire population of the country. Either we keep our selves vulnerable to
the enemy by keeping M-NPP for the sake of cheap energy or bite the bullet and
get rid of it for the sake of national safety and security. Any blue-blooded patriot would opt for the
ultimate security of the people.
Step Three: Before we embark on the
time-consuming and costly project of dismantling the M-NPP facilities, Armenia
needs to find an alternative source of energy, even though the plant supplied
approximately 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity in 2015. The rest is sold to
Georgia and Iran. One way would be hydroelectric generation; another way would
be solar energy or wind turbines. For example, we can also harness Arpa River
or another high volume, rapidly moving river by damming it to produce
electricity. When the time comes, we shall conduct feasibility studies to
determine viable alternative sources of energy.
Step Four: Since decommissioning the
M-NPP will take many years, and since Armenia is facing a belligerent and
bellicose Azerbaijan and its big brother Turkey, temporary protection measures
should be taken. For example, one way would be to encase the facilities with
thick concrete wrap around for protection from aerial and land attacks.
Step Five: Choose a dismantling
method, which would cost Armenia less time, less money, less safety problems,
and without any major disruption in the use of electricity by the Armenian
society. When the decision is made to close a nuclear power plant permanently,
the facility must be decommissioned by safely removing it from service and
reducing most residual radioactivity to a level that permits release of the
property as being safe. Decommissioning rules involving cleanup of
radioactively contaminated plant system and its structures, and removal of the
radioactive fuel must be followed. These requirements are established to
protect workers and the public during the entire decommissioning process.
For decommissioning, there are three accepted
strategies to choose from: DECON (decontaminate), SAFSTOR (store safely), and
ENTOMB (bury or encase completely). Let us briefly introduce each one.
Under DECON, (also referred to as
Immediate Dismantling), soon after the nuclear facility closes, equipment,
structures, and portions of the facility that contain radioactive contaminants
are removed or decontaminated to a level that permits release of the property
as safe. Although the operation stops immediately, the safe disposal of radiation
takes many, many years.
Under SAFSTOR, also referred to as
“Deferred Dismantling,” a nuclear facility is maintained and
monitored in a condition that allows the radioactivity to decay. Afterwards,
the power plant is dismantled and the property is decontaminated.
Under ENTOMB, radioactive contaminants
are permanently encased on site in structurally dependable or sound material
such as concrete. The plant is maintained and monitored until the radioactivity
decays to a level permitting restricted release of the property. While the
facility may stand some enemy attacks, it may succumb to a severe earthquake
registering very high on the Richter scale.
It is noteworthy to state that many
also choose to adopt a combination of the first two choices (DECON and
SAFSTOR). The combined strategies will allow some portions of the facility to
be dismantled or decontaminated while the other parts of the facility are left
in SAFSTOR. The decision may be based on factors besides radioactive decay,
such as on the availability of waste disposal sites and the circumstances that
allow following this strategy.
However, when a situation arises, such
as Armenia is finding itself against a warring neighbor, ENTOMB strategy would
give the country some protection by encasing the plant facilities with thick
concrete. The ENTOMB fortification is considered good against earthquakes and
missile attacks. This kind of strategy is less time consuming, less expensive,
and immediately meets the exigencies of the situation with the enemy that has a
long track record of committing cruel acts which astonish humanity.
On the average, decommissioning can be
completed within 60 years of the plant ceasing operations. A time beyond that
would be considered only when necessary to protect the public health and
safety. To fully decommission M-NPP, the facility must be decontaminated and the site returned to “Greenfield”
status (i.e., meaning the site is safe for reuse for recreation, housing,
farming, or industrial use).
The government of Armenia must safely
dispose of any onsite nuclear waste and remove carefully or contain any
radioactive material, including nuclear fuel as well as irradiated equipment
Step Six: Establish an M-NPP
Dismantling Fund to bank roll such a costly project. The Diaspora should form a
special fund and organize fund raising efforts on a regular basis. The
government of Armenia should also levy a small tax to contribute financially
toward the realization of Armenia being nuclear-free of perilous reactors. The
cost of decommissioning a nuclear power plant runs from millions and millions
to one billion dollars.
Step Seven: Do the dismantling
secretly and keep the plant stacks intact from the outside. So, when the enemy
strikes it, we would have evidence, we would have the Trojan horse to catch
Azerbaijan red-handed, to hold them responsible for their inhumane act against
humanity to be condemned by the international community. We would then have a
good reason to occupy (or rather liberate) our Utik province from Azerbaijan
for the sake of establishing a buffer zone.
Step Eight: Establish a timeline to
complete such a crucial project. It
takes anywhere from 20 to 100 years to complete the decommissioning and for
getting rid of the nuclear waste of the power plant. Armenia is geographically
small; we do not have the luxury of vast stretches of desert to bury nuclear
waste that is still active.
Incidentally, Armenia should stop permitting Russia to dump its waste or
decayed radioactive material in Armenia. To achieve complete success, Armenia
will have to reach “Greenfield” stage in dismantling, namely
rendering the environment conducive to living and agriculture by humans as well
as animals. With the help of the Diaspora, it would most likely take 40 long years
to completely get rid of the looming danger of M-NPP.
Decommissioning nuclear reactors is a
long-term and costly process. Since 2013, six commercial nuclear reactors in the
United States have shut down; additionally, eight reactors have announced plans
to retire by 2025. The world trend is to get rid of this paradoxical source of
energy which benefits and also destroys humanity and the environment. The
retirement process for nuclear power plants involves disposing of nuclear waste
and decontaminating equipment and facilities to reduce residual radioactivity,
making the process much more expensive and time consuming than retiring other
non-nuclear power plants.
As you well know, in modern era of
technology-based warfare, conventional combat seems like an anachronism. Rules
of engagement are from a distance such as by robots, missiles, and drones.
Military manufactures like Boston Dynamics in the United States are specializing
in unmanned machinery to minimize the human casualties in war. Despite the bravery of the Armenian
soldiers, they are not facing an ordinary situation –not your grandpa’s
warfare. Equipped with unmanned arms to strike from a distance, it neutralizes
the bravery of the solider factor in an armed conflict.
If we lose the war to the enemy
gradually just as we had three villages destroyed and a strategic hill in the
middle of 800 hectares of land occupied by Azerbaijan during the 4-Day War, our
soldiers should not be blamed. The lion’s share of responsibility falls on our
shoulders to equip them with modern weaponry and to safeguard our Armenian
population from the disaster of a blown up nuclear power plant.
In sum, Armenians are living in the
shadow of a potentially disastrous power plant. In addition to Azerbaijan’s threats of blowing
it up, earthquakes pose danger to M-NPP. To become a hero, it would only take one crazy,
heartless Azeri solider to drop a bomb on our nuclear facilities and create
hell for Armenia. Thus, we should get
organized to solve our nuclear vulnerability without wasting any time. Armenia is lucky to have only one nuclear
power plant to get rid of compared to the United States, which must still
dismantle 98 facilities. The specter of the sword of Damocles falling on the
head of Armenia’s future generations would become at last history.
We owe it to our next generations –an
Armenia that is clean, an Armenia that is beautiful, and an Armenia that is
strong, and most importantly, an Armenia that is safe to live in and thrive.
And yes, to alleviate the fear of the consequences of a deadly nuclear power
plant blown up, my house sitter in Yerevan would have peaceful nights to sleep.