The story of a city in the shadow of an old Soviet Union nuclear reactor

The story of a city in the shadow of an old Soviet Union nuclear reactor

The city is 35 kilometers from the bustling capital of Armenia, Yerevan. Metsamor is a stone's throw from snowy Mount Ararat, across from the Turkish border.

Meanwhile, the nuclear power plant at Metsamor was built simultaneously with Chernobyl, in the 1970s.

Chernobyl, a power plant in the city of Pripyat, Ukraine, exploded in 1986 and is considered the biggest nuclear tragedy because it affected the lives of tens of thousands of Soviet citizens and its surroundings.

The nuclear plant at Metsamor met the Soviet Union's growing energy needs. At that time, the Soviets had ambitious plans to meet 60% of their country's electricity needs from nuclear power.

Everything changed in 1988, when a magnitude 6.8 earthquake rocked Spitak, devastated Armenia and killed an estimated 25,000 people.

The plant was immediately closed for security reasons. As a result, many workers returned to their hometowns in Poland, Ukraine and Russia.

Thirty years later, the existence and future of the Metsamor nuclear reactor is still a controversial topic in Armenia. One of the plant's reactors was turned on in 1995 and now covers 40% of the country's electricity needs.

Critics believe that the nuclear power plants and reactors are still very vulnerable to earthquakes. The reason is that the location is busy with seismic activity.

By contrast, proponents of the plant, including government officials, say Metsamor was built on blocks of stable basalt rock. They said further modifications had also been made at the nuclear site, including the installation of fire doors.

But amidst the ongoing bickering, the lives of the people who live and work in Metsamor continue to roll on.

The city was built to attract workers from all over the Soviet Union, from the Baltics to Kazakhstan. Metsamor is designed to accommodate 36 thousand residents, complete with an artificial lake, sports facilities and a cultural center.


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