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DANCING AROUND THE BOMB

Dancing Around the Bomb
Yerevan keeps terrorizing the world with its Metsamor nuclear plant
The earthquake in the Turkish province of Van once again reminded the world about the threat posed by the nearby Metsamor nuclear power plant in Armenia. Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Taner Yildiz said after the quake that “Turkey plans to take legal action against the obsolete nuclear power plants around the world, including the Armenian one”.
Turkey’s eastern provinces are only 16 km from the Metsamor nuclear power station, and given the high seismic activity in this region, it is not difficult to guess the scale of the catastrophe should an accident occur at the plant. In fact, the results will be equally tragic for both Armenia and the entire region – from Russia's southern border to Iran. Radioactive contamination will affect Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia and other neighboring countries. 
Even today the station is causing irreparable damage to the environment, as water of the Arpacay and Araz rivers is used to cool the reactor and then discharge back into the rivers without any purification. As a result, according to the Turkish newspaper Sabah, the number of child deaths and births of children with disabilities in the province of Iqdir have increased in recent years. But that's not all. There is a possibility, and according to some sources there are even facts, of nuclear waste from the Mestamor plant being buried on Armenian-occupied Azerbaijani territories that are not accessible for international control.
Metsamor is an “old generation” station that does not meet modern safety standards and is in pre-emergency condition. Built in the 1970s, Metsamor was shut down after the 1988 earthquake in Armenia. But Yerevan took an unprecedented step in world history, and on 5 November 1995 launched the second block of the previously closed plant.
Back in the early 2000s, the European Union did everything possible to have the plant closed. According to western experts, the air-tight nuclear reactor built using first-generation Soviet technology, may not withstand another major earthquake. In 2004, the EU representative in Armenia, Alexis Luber, said that allowing the plant to operate is tantamount to “dancing around a potential atomic bomb”. In addition, the nuclear plant does not have a system of secondary protection designed to prevent leakage of radioactive material in the event of an accident. “If there is an earthquake tomorrow, can it provoke a nuclear catastrophe? I do not know, it all depends on its magnitude,” said the then EU envoy to Georgia and Armenia, Jacques Vantomme.
“The position of the EU on this issue is that we want the Metsamor plant to be closed in the near future. This type of nuclear power plants does not meet European standards and their modernization is impossible for reasons of profitability,” the European diplomat was quoted by The Times as saying in November 2004.
In an effort to dispose of the power plant and develop alternative energy sources, the EU offered Yerevan financial assistance of 200 million euros (140 million pounds), but Armenia’s then Foreign Minister Vartan Oksanyan described the amount as “peanuts”.
Demands to close the plant were also made by the USA, which also offered financial support. However, the Armenian government, ignoring all these requirements, speculated with Metsamor for a long time and, in September 2003, transferred the station for “trust management” to the Russian JSC “Inter RAO UES”.
Meanwhile, the very existence of a nuclear power plant in Armenia jeopardizes regional security. Today, when the entire world community is concerned about the situation surrounding Iran's nuclear development, it is somehow forgotten that Armenia too has all the conditions to develop such weapons. Back in 1995, when restarting the second unit of the plant, the then prime minister of Armenia, Grant Bagratyan, made an interesting statement. “Nuclear power makes Armenia stronger than other countries of the region,” he said.
According to Radio Liberty, the general-director of “Rosatom”, Sergey Kiriyenko, said in 2009 that Armenia can become one of a handful of countries with a full cycle of uranium. Russia has been supplying the Armenian nuclear power plant with enriched uranium since the 1970s, while the joint Russian-Armenian venture set up a few years ago intends to develop uranium deposits directly on Armenian territory.
It is also known that nuclear stations have the capacity to develop plutonium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons. Nuclear power plants with an annual capacity of 1,000 megawatts produce 250 kg of plutonium. This, according to nuclear scientists, is enough for more than 20 nuclear warheads. Just one kilogram of plutonium can produce an explosion equivalent to 20,000 tons of TNT. So experts believe that any country that claims to develop nuclear fuel “for exclusively peaceful purposes” has the same capabilities to manufacture weapons of mass destruction.
Since becoming independent, Armenia has been closely cooperating with its southern neighbor, Iran. In fact, the priority of this cooperation is the energy sector. Besides the gas pipeline commissioned in December 2006 and a potential oil pipeline from Iran to Armenia, Tehran has also offered to supply the Armenian nuclear power plant with fuel.
In this context, the Western fears that the “infernal machine” may fall into the hands of international terrorists acquire a special urgency. One of the many examples of Armenia’s close ties with international terrorist groups is a report by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that there was weaponry for Hezbollah in the cargo compartment of Tupolev-154 plane which was carrying out the Tehran-Yerevan flight and crashed on 15 July 2009.
Not less thought-provoking is another report that leaked to the Western press through WikiLeaks. According to the British Guardian, examination of a car with three Armenians traveling through a checkpoint on the Georgian-Armenian border in August 2009 discovered the presence of radioactive substances. The detector recorded the same signal when these individuals were crossing the border back into Armenia. As it turned out, the car was contaminated with cesium-137, but no radioactive material was discovered in the vehicle and it was allowed to drive into Armenia. “It seems that the car delivered the goods to their destination,” Guardian wrote, adding that “eight months later two Armenian smugglers carried highly enriched uranium in a box of cigarettes across the border. This time, the alarm did not go off, but Grant Ohanian and Smbat Tonoyan were caught in a special operation and sentenced to 13 and 14 years’ imprisonment respectively last month.”
According to the smugglers’ plan, on 11 March 2009 they were supposed to meet with the buyer at a Tbilisi hotel. The detainees had expected to sell the 18 grams of uranium to a representative of the Islamist group as a test sample for a potentially bigger order. The buyer was none other than a disguised police officer, the Guardian wrote referring to investigation materials.
It is worthy of note that one of the criminals, Smbat Tonoyan, is the father of the investigator for particularly important cases of Armenia’s Special Investigation Service, Samvel Tonoyan, better known as a member of a team set up to investigate the bloody events of 1 March 2008. Then, as a result of brutal suppression of a popular uprising against the rigged presidential elections in Armenia, dozens of people were killed.
While Smbat Tonoyan’s relation to someone close to the Armenian authorities may not provide the basis for alleging the existence of direct links between Yerevan and transnational crime. But this can’t be ruled out either. Moreover, there is sufficient other evidence to support this claim. For example, in 2005 Armenian President Robert Kocharyan granted mercy to another smuggler Dadayan, who was arrested two years earlier while trying to cross the Georgian border with 200 grams of highly enriched uranium. Curiously enough, the list of persons pardoned by the Armenian president is kept confidential. This was the case both in the time of Kocharyan and now, under Serzh Sargsyan. The authorities justify their refusal to publish the list of those pardoned by their constitutional right to privacy. However, this information is disclosed to the public in the interests of transparency all over the world.
These facts confirm expert concerns that there is a risk of nuclear weapons or their components getting into the hands of international terrorists. Especially if we consider that criminals are often directly related to intelligence agencies and the political elite of Armenia.
In this context, experts are concerned about the method of delivery of nuclear fuel to Armenia – by Russian aircraft to a civilian airport and then by trucks on a poor-quality road. Of particular concern is the fact that Armenian specialists from the Metsamor nuclear power plant are leaving it for work at Iran's Bushehr. “In recent years, about 20 people have left the Metsamor plant and found a job at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran, where wages are higher. Some qualified specialists have left Metsamor,” A1+ news agency has quoted the chief engineer of the Armenian nuclear power plant, Movses Vardanyan, as saying. Another 158 middle and top executives have submitted their resignations. Many of them are also hoping to find work in the Iranian nuclear power plants, which, according to Western media, are already completing the process of uranium enrichment.
Yerevan has now launched a campaign to support the construction of a new nuclear power unit with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts. The project cost is estimated at nearly $6 billion. It remains to find the above amount. Even though 20 per cent of the project funding is provided by the Russian JSC “Inter RAO UES” and another 20 by the government of Armenia, it will hardly be possible to find those interested to invest billions in such a dubious project.
Even in Armenia proper experts are dissatisfied with the government's plans. “The construction of a new power plant in Metsamor is a crime,” the chairman of the Union of Greens, Hakob Sanasaryan, has told EurasiaNet.org. “A nuclear power plant cannot be placed close to water and agricultural systems, in seismic zones and in densely populated areas.” The chairman of the Pan-Armenian Association of Power Engineers, Slavik Sargsyan, has expressed concern over a lack of qualified professionals capable of operating the station.
Thus, Yerevan’s “nuclear ambitions” that are not consistent with its financial capabilities, the Armenian political elite’s links with international terrorism, a high probability of a disaster at the Metsamor nuclear power plant are posing a threat in all possible manifestations. Even if we do not even take into account the possibility of using this plant to make nuclear weapons or to distribute its components, it is simply impossible to ignore the environmental threat posed by the Armenian nuclear power plant. At least, the recent accident at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant should serve as a serious signal.
Fuad Hilalov- Contributor Analyst, Strategic Outlook

17.01.2013 - Hit : 1679


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