Tag Archives: earthquakes and nuclear energy

Earthquake Qualified Nuclear Power Plants

Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant Armenia, Image from wikipedia

The fate of the 41-year-old Armenian Nuclear Power Plant (ANPP), commonly known as Metsamor, is up for debate yet again as reports have emerged questioning whether the Armenian government will abandon plans for renewal or replacement altogether.  Metsamor, which is the only nuclear energy plant in the South Caucasus and one of the five remaining Soviet nuclear reactors of its kind, provides energy to 40% of Armenian consumers. Despite its critical role in Armenia’s modern energy economy, its aging design and proximity to earthquake-prone areas make it among the most dangerous nuclear plants in the world.

Built in 1976, the plant was shut down in 1989 by Soviet officials, following the devastating Spitak Earthquake. However, the economic difficulty and energy scarcity in Armenia after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, motivated the new Armenian government to relaunch the second of the plant’s two units.  Since then, the reactor’s operations have been a contentious issue both domestically and internationally. The issue was even addressed in an impending EU-Armenia trade agreement, where a 350-page, publicly-released draft text stipulated the reactor should be closed and replaced (though practical measures in enforcing this were notably vague).

For years, Armenian officials have pledged to build a new nuclear plant, which was originally scheduled to expire in 2016, but in 2015, an extension was granted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) allowing the site to continue operating until 2027…

Replacing the plant will require serious investment—around five billion dollars—which would fund a medium capacity plant (600 megawatts). Closing the plant would deprive millions of people of electricity, without a viable alternative, and would deal a blow to the security of the country.

Excerpts from The Uncertain Fate of Armenia’s Nuclear Power Plant, The Armenian Weekly, Oct. 20, 2017

Nuclear Futures: Risks of industry-state collusion and geological instability

A year after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, Taiwan finds itself, like many countries around the world, having to make a difficult choice between retreating from nuclear energy or committing further to it.  Yet no other country faces quite the same set of circumstances shared by the two East Asian neighbors, a combination of need and risk that guarantees whatever decision is made will be painful…

Taiwan has three nuclear power stations, two in the north and one in the south. All have operated safely and profitably for many years while providing nearly 20 percent of the island’s electricity.  But the facilities are getting old — the oldest is slated for decommissioning in 2018 and another in 2019.  Construction of a fourth plant began in 1998 in New Taipei City on the northeast coast, but various shutdowns due to engineering problems and policy reversals have delayed its completion.  The builder and operator of the facility, Taiwan Power Co., recently agreed to hire Japanese technicians to resolve problems discovered during construction, with officials hoping the new facility will become operational by 2014.  These technicians will be available because of the Japanese government’s freeze on new nuclear projects following the Fukushima No. 1 meltdowns — a policy many in Taiwan wish their government would also adopt.

Many of the arguments against the new plant in New Taipei City are the same ones made by opponents of nuclear energy worldwide. Some say it is too expensive, with overruns pushing the cost to nearly 300 billion New Taiwan dollars ($10 billion), nearly double initial projections.  Others point to the irresolvable problems of radiation leaks and disposal of nuclear waste.  Some criticize the facility because of its proximity to the island’s densely populated north. Others point out the length of time the project has taken to complete, meaning that its design and equipment have already become outdated.

Taiwanese authorities have tried to address the concerns, heightening official oversight and granting access to the press and nongovernmental agencies. A temporary facility for low-level radioactive waste is already operating on Orchid Island off Taiwan’s southeastern coast and the first interim dry storage facility for spent fuel rods will be completed at the reactor site in the latter part of this year for operation from 2013. [See also Nuclear Waste Exports]

Opponents are skeptical, however, and none more so than those who live near the new plant. They question the lack of a comprehensive disaster-management plan and express a deep distrust of authorities from whom they foresee the same slack regulation and industry-government collusion that doomed Fukushima No. 1.  “A lesson we learn from Japan’s nuclear disaster is that we can only depend on ourselves,” said a local resident who gave only his surname, Wu.

Of course, the most glaring similarity with Japan is not Taiwan’s regulatory shortcomings, but their mutual geological instability — both are at the convergence of major tectonic plates on the western Pacific Rim….  Similar [to Fukushima] natural disasters have occurred in Taiwan in the past and some worry about history repeating itself….

The most compelling argument in favor of nuclear development in Taiwan is again one it shares with Japan — there is little alternative.  As a modern industrial economy, Taiwan, like its neighbor, depends on cheap, reliable electrical power while possessing virtually no indigenous sources of fuel for generation.  Taiwan imports 99 percent of its energy, most of it coal, oil and natural gas. If it phases out nuclear power production by 2025, as critics propose, the Ministry of Economic Affairs estimates the additional cost to generate electricity with alternative energy sources would be more than NT$480 billion from 2014 to 2030.  If the electricity generated by the three nuclear power plants were eliminated, reserve capacity would drop from 20 percent to 6 percent, Taipower claims.

Excerpts, By KO SHU-LING, Taiwan, Japan share atomic power dilemma, Japan Times, Apr. 11, 2012