Armenia has made progress in strengthening its regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety, but still faces challenges including a shortage of qualified and experienced staff at the regulatory body, an International Atomic Energy Agency team of experts said.
The Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team said the Armenia Nuclear Regulatory Authority (ANRA) faces “a critical situation” related to human resources.
“ANRA and its technical and support organisation, the Nuclear and Radiation Safety Centre, are not financially competitive compared with the industry and the Armenian nuclear power plant,” said IRRS team leader Hans Wanner, who is director-general of the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate. “There is an urgent need to address this issue.”
The team found that since an earlier IRRS mission in 2015 Armenia has taken key steps by adopting a strategy for spent fuel and radioactive waste management, and by intensifying inspections related to emergency preparedness and response. The IAEA said Armenia is still addressing some other recommendations and suggestions from the 2015 mission, in part because the country is undertaking a comprehensive legislative review process, including on a new atomic law.
The IRRS team acknowledged that ANRA faces many challenges in regulating nuclear safety, including implementing findings related to a European Union initiative on conducting stress tests. The initiative, which Armenia has joined, stems from lessons learned from the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi accident in Japan.
The team said ANRA should upgrade its management system in line with IAEA safety standards.
“In light of ongoing challenges associated with the long-term operation of the Armenia Nuclear Power Plant, the findings made by the IRRS mission to improve regulatory infrastructure for safety are very timely,” said Greg Rzentkowski, director of the IAEA’s division of nuclear installation safety.
“Recommended improvements, once implemented, will help place appropriate focus on safety, including continued safe and reliable operation of the plant.”
The Armenian nuclear plant in Metsamor provides 40% of the country’s electricity. Unit 1 was permanently shut down in 1989, while the operating licence for Unit 2 has been extended until 2021 subject to yearly safety demonstrations, with preparations underway for requesting an additional extension until 2026. Both Units are Russian VVERs.
Armenia also has a dry spent fuel storage facility, a radioactive waste storage facility, and uses radioactive sources in medicine, industry and research.
In November 2018 government officials were quoted in local press reports as saying Armenia was negotiating with potential investors to build a new nuclear power plant.
Energy minister Garegin Baghramyan said “specific proposals” for new-build in Armenia had come from Russian, French and Chinese investors.