Russian expert urges to close Metsamor NPP before disaster happens
    Caliber.Az talks to Andrey Ozharovsky

    INTERVIEWS  08 May 2023 - 13:01

    Vadim Mansurov

    Moscow's nuclear threats to Western countries, Iran's nuclear programme, Armenia's collapsing nuclear power plant, DPRK's regular tests of weapons of mass destruction - the probability of a global catastrophe caused by either "peaceful atom" or nuclear weapons has grown more than ever before. Russian engineer-physicist, expert of "Safety of radioactive waste" program of the Russian Socio-Ecological Union, Andrey Ozharovsky, told Caliber.Az about the possibility of a nuclear apocalypse and what is needed to prevent it.

    - The threat of nuclear war is literally in the air, and people are talking about it more and more intensely. Will it break out in the near future and what can trigger it?

    - The fact is that countries that possess nuclear weapons spend vast sums of money to maintain them. A nuclear bomb is not some medieval sword forged once, hung on the wall, and ready to be used at any time. Nuclear weapons require the work of the nuclear fuel chain, and countries that possess them are, to one degree or another, prepared to use them a priori. Alas, none of them, for example, France, has declared that they do not want to bomb cities, or kill civilians, all this is barbarism and medievalism. The current military doctrine of all nuclear weapon states does not suggest abandoning it at all. So the claim that a country that possesses nuclear weapons is ready to use them applies not only to Russia but also to other states.

    Now we are again seeing the trend towards reducing nuclear arsenals fades away, although there were great successes in the 1990s. For me personally, as an ecologist, it is important that, in addition to all other agreements, decisions were taken to destroy 34 tons of plutonium. After all, plutonium is the material that can be used as a filling for a nuclear bomb - it is about 3-5 kilograms of such a substance. And there was talk of the destruction of 34 tons of plutonium on each side, that is a huge figure.

    However, both Russia and the US are now withdrawing from a number of nuclear non-proliferation treaties, a highly negative trend. This has opened the way for the modernisation of nuclear weapons: the US has already announced that it is going to resume the production of nuclear warheads with new technology because nuclear weapons cannot be stored forever. The lifetime of the devices produced in the 1970s-80s has come to an end and now they need to be upgraded. All this could be another stepping stone to a new arms race, which would involve not two countries, as it was during the Cold War, but several, e.g. China joining in. And then there is North Korea, which is literally jumping out of its skin, so eager to join the "nuclear club". The world is becoming more and more dangerous. Then there are the local conflicts: apart from the war between Russia and Ukraine, there is the strife between India and Pakistan and between North and South Korea, where the use of nuclear weapons is very likely if the tensions escalate.

    - Then there is Israel and Iran. Tehran, according to Israeli experts, is close to building an atomic bomb. So is an Iranian nuclear bomb a ghost or a real one?

    - As for the existence of nuclear weapons, the world community is convinced that Israel has them, although it is not officially recognised. It is also noteworthy that India, Pakistan, and even North Korea have them, in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The most terrible weapons of mass destruction are spreading all over the planet, there are no special secrets for their creation anymore. But even against this background, Iran's nuclear programme is particularly worrying. There are reports that an uncharacteristically high concentration of uranium-235 was detected in samples near some Iranian facilities, which means that while Iran officially claims that enriched uranium will be used exclusively for domestic power generation, it will clearly be used in the military sphere as well. So it appears that technically Iran currently has all the conditions to produce an explosive nuclear device - both enriched uranium and plutonium-based.

    It is worth noting that it was Rosatom that built the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran, which can produce nuclear feedstock - even weapons-grade plutonium. Without diving into detail, one could argue that simply converting the nuclear plant to another mode of nuclear fuel extraction could produce good enough raw material for the production of a nuclear bomb. Unfortunately, nuclear weapons are now the only indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction that are not banned by international conventions. Because not a single nuclear-weapon state has supported this idea. And yet chemical, bacteriological, and other types of weapons of mass destruction are banned.

    - The Armenian nuclear ghost in Metsamor also raises serious concerns today. How dangerous this plant is for South Caucasus?

    - It is worth noting at once that any nuclear power plant with any reactors is dangerous. The peculiarities of Metsamor NPP are as follows: the reactors there are archaic, they are VVR 440 reactors developed in the 60-70s which in some sense may be a bit more reliable than those in Chornobyl, but after a full analysis of engineering, technical and safety problems they are recognized dangerous in the European Union and subject to shutdown. The main problem of the Armenian NPP, in my opinion, lies in two important aspects: its high altitude, which increases the range of dispersion of radioactive substances in case of an accident. The other problem is the situation with waste. After the decision to prolong Metsamor NPP, moreover, its modernisation, this issue became even more acute. In Soviet times, according to the existing agreements, all spent nuclear fuel from the republics was exported to the RSFSR for reprocessing, but now the Russian legislation prevents this. So the safety problem, including the waste problem, is in full swing. The Armenian nuclear power plant is undoubtedly a site of great concern.

    At the same time, the plant is actively involved in the country's energy sector, and its authorities have no intention of closing it down at all...

    I believe, however, that there are some hopes and alternatives that could reduce the environmental risks for the whole Caucasus. For example, if Armenia improves its relations with neighbouring countries, such as Azerbaijan, accelerated use of renewable energy sources, primarily wind and solar energy, is quite possible. Promoting these new "green" technologies is much more profitable and convenient than keeping this old, dangerous plant running. But this is more a question for the Armenian leadership. In general, it seems to me that, given the attitude of not only Azerbaijan but also the EU to this issue, Armenia has a chance to get some material, engineering assistance in the case of the development of a large-scale renewable energy program. It would be the best step for the country and, I would say, more than that, it is necessary to close the Armenian nuclear plant before a disaster happens or before the piles of radioactive waste poison everything around it.


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