Can We Afford It?

Garen Yegparian

BY GAREN YEGPARIAN

With Japan confronting some daunting dangers, we should be asking if nuclear power is something we as a species can afford to continue relying on. This question takes on added poignancy when applied more narrowly to the Republic of Armenia, its current nuclear-produced electricity, and the intention to replace the old reactor with a new one.

Already, we have the RoA’s officialdom telling us the reactors in Yerevan are “protected” against a fate such as Japan’s. I heard a former high ranking NRC (the U.S.’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission, formerly called the Atomic Energy Commission, AEC) official being interviewed. One thing that stood out was his observation that comments to the effect of “this can’t happen to us” should not be given much credence.

The reason for this lack of credibility is the foundation of that sort of statement. The foundation is “well, that’s a different design of reactor” and/or “it’s in a different geological/geographical location”, or any other dissimilarity between/among nuclear reactors and plants. But ultimately, we see that accidents keep happening, with different causes to different designs in different locations.

The harm and potential for harm is immense. I’ve seen some numbers reported already that Japan may face a $180 billion tab as a result of the current mess. That’s not including the human harm and disruption that may still come if things get further out of control in the damaged nuclear reactors and their surroundings.

Let’s go to Armenia. It is earthquake prone. It’s high enough above sea level not to be endangered by tsunamis. It doesn’t have anywhere near the resources Japan has to contend with an accident. Yet, the RoA government is set on building a new nuclear reactor. I have a well informed friend who technical judgment I trust who argues that such a plant is absolutely necessary for Armenia to survive, otherwise it has nothing.

So the question becomes, is the risk worth it? Is current economic survival (here assuming the worst— that there are no viable alternative development paths for Armenia) worth the risk of rendering the area around wherever the new reactor would be sited unlivable for a multi-generational period of time? And imagine if the location is as close to Yerevan as the current reactor. What happens to the population in the heart of the Republic in case of an accident? We’re seeing, through the previous and current nuclear mishaps, that human error always plays a role. Can we afford that risk?

Lest you think that living in the U.S. you’re safe, here are a few interesting facts. The design of the reactor experiencing fires and explosions in Japan is the same as 23 in the U.S. I grew up about 20 miles from one of them (the Oyster Creek power plant located in Forked River, NJ). It turns out that the AEC, in 1972 produced a document questioning the safety of this particular design! Moving to the other coast, it turns out one of California’s isn’t even required to have an earthquake contingency plan! Also, the risk of locally generated tsunamis exists along the west coast of North America.

So, think hard, very hard. Do we want nuclear power in Armenia? Do we want billions in subsidies going to the nuclear power industry as currently being proposed in Washington D.C.? Can we afford nuclear power and its risks/dangers?

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11 Comments

  1. Random Armenian said:

    Can Armenia produce electricity in a self-sufficient manner without a nuclear power plant? What are the options? Armenia has to be as self-sufficient as possible when it comes to energy. Granted, the new nuclear power plant will not be wholly owned by Armenia. Given the small land mass, wind and solar will not meet the needs.

    The plant in Japan is indeed an older design. But yes I don’t trust the authorities when they say Metsamor is a different design. It’s a different old and dangerous design.

    • manooshag said:

      Armenia needs the nuclear power plant. Other than Iran, Armenia is surrounded by enemies – and if these nations presume to attack our fledgling nation – then if our nuclear power plant is also attacked… then the attackers will ‘benefit’ from the effects as well!! Manooshag

  2. Arthur I said:

    Unless fusion reactors move beyond the theoretical rhealm, fission is the only efficient but unsafe means of sustaining the needs of ever-exploding population of the world. Of course solar hydrogen is the safest current alternative, but the oil and gas industry will not allow this technology to take off despite proven prototypes in existence for decades.

    What is solar hydrogen? Well, it is a system that uses solar panels to generate electricity, and that electricity is used for water electrolysis. As any high-school graduate knows, in a water electrolysis hydrogen and oxygen are separated from each other. Then, these separated gasses pass through a fuel cell and combine into water again. In the process of this recombination, they generate electric current. Water vapor is the only byproduct of this process. Since this is purified water vapor, it can be allowed to rise up in a closed sfystem, then it can be passed through a passive cooling system to condensate back into liquid form, then gravity will return the liquid back to the electrolysis chamber to start the process again.

    The same process can be done by substituting the fuel cell with currently existing internal combustion engines. Of course cobusting hydrogen in pure oxygen produces much greater energy than current car engines can withstand. That is why a physicist from Arizona combusts the hydrogen in plain air, which has a lower oxygen content. He has converted a car and a lawnmower to work on hydrogen fuel (but he has not integrated the solar hydrogen extraction into his units – he just uses hydrogen acquired from few available sources).

    The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (ENREL) had prototype cooling radiators (that work on a principal very similar to car radiators – not to be confused with the word radiation given the current topic) 10 years ago. I have seen and touched a small cross-section of it.

    Armenia has plenty of water and plenty of sun. Armenia has excellent scientists, engineers, and metallurgists. Armenia can achieve its energy independence safely, and in the process become a leader of this technology, the massive export of which can improve Armenia’s economy and at the same time bankrupt Azeri oil industry.

    Of course the UK and Russia will become Armenia’s enemies (well UK has never been Armenia’s friend).

    Begs the question: Which is more dangerous? Radiation or war with Russia? The US just might become Armenia’s unexpexted best friend in that scenario. Not because US dislikes big oil, but because bankrupting Russia’s oil industry will once again cripple Russia’s military industrial complex similar to the first post-soviet decade.

    • nana said:

      To Arthur:
      1. Armenia does not have “plenty of water”. Turkey and Bolsheviks took care for that.
      2. Making Russia enemy of Armenia is main goal of Turkey. Armenia and Russia will remain friendly.
      3. Turkey is the major advocate of closing NPP in Armenia.
      4. Russia got bid to build NPP in Turkey. Turkey’s goal is to gain on the crisis of NPP industry. Turkey tries to profit on the disaster in Japan.
      In conclusion, what is your goal? You start comment with a scientific insert and end it with a political statement.

      • Arthur I said:

        1. You probably buy into the neoliberal fresh water panic theory, know nothing about Artsakh’s water reserves, and are clueless about Armenia’s grouchy water reserves.
        2.&3. Nothing is mutually exclusive except for those with limited intelligence.
        4.a. My point is: think outside of the box of victimization and dependence. Take charge of our own destiny.
        Forgive me for the short sentences. No time for individual enlightenment lessons.
        4.b. Every action creates reaction, but notalways in opposite direction and equal force when the issue is not limited to the inanimate. Within the rhelam of human relations and generally outside of international law, the reactions are disproportionate in force and unpredictable in direction. Therefore, all possibilities must be weighed. An economics degree or an international relations degree is not enough to make good policy leaders – not anymore. Everything is interconnected and interdependent. That is why tiny Armenia has the potential for being the flashpoint for WWIII.

        • Arthur I said:

          I meant Armenia’s groundwater supply, not grouchy supply:)). My phone’s autocoerrect function is horrible.

  3. Halo said:

    Not only should Armenia build MORE nuclear plants, Armenia should also tear up the nuclear non-proliferation treaty it was forced to sign at the next UN conference and arm itself with nuclear weapons as much as it can.

    If Israel can get away with it, Armenia should too.

  4. Aramazd said:

    Nuclear is the only solution for Armenia. Its been around 17 years that Metsamor has been producing electricity of Armenia. Nothing else can help. Plus having a Nuclear plant is a deterrent from Turkey attacking Armenia in the first place.

  5. William said:

    Yes, we can afford it.

    The funniest thing about people afraid of nuclear energy is that their fear (and accompanying fear mongering) is almost wholly based on hyperbole. There has been ONE major nuclear meltdown in the 50+ year history of nuclear energy and that was with a reactor design that was clearly not prepared for any disaster. The nuclear reactors in existence today, and those that will be in the future, are light years ahead in their design and safety standards (Armenia’s new reactor included).

    If we’re going to use Japan as an example, let’s. Despite the doomsday headlines, essentially nothing happened. Some injuries were recorded due to the partial meltdown but few, if any, deaths occurred as a result of the accident at the nuclear plant.

    I would never advocate deriving all of your energy from one source. Despite nuclear being one of the cleanest, safest, and cheapest energy technologies to date, it would serve Armenia well to diversify its energy mix to generate power from alternative sources, as well. So, although nuclear should not be dismissed because of exaggerated safety concerns, Armenia should do its best to develop and use other technologies that will allow it to not depend on only one source of energy.

  6. Arthur I said:

    Two days ago Medvedev announced that new Lear power plant construction should be curbed in seismically active areas. So forget Armenia and Turkey. Russia wants to use Japan as an excuse for more use of fossil fuels. Russia loves oil and oil money to support its military superpower status.

    Here comes a big I told you so for my posting above.

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