Metsamor is home to Armenia
's infamous nuclear power plant of the same name – reputedly one of the most dangerous such plants in the world. And that in an area that is known to be prone to severe earthquakes ... such as the one that levelled Spitak
in 1988 proved – Metsamor was switched off at that time but restarted in the 1990s. Some sources say the plant is designed to withstand a quake up to a magnitude of 9, while others claim there isn't any anti-earthquake protection at Metsamor at all.
The main risk factor, however, is simply that the reactors are of an old Soviet
design (similar to that of Chernobyl
) that does not involve a so-called containment vessel for the reactor core. It thus doesn't take an earthquake to expose the reactor core ... and the surrounding lands to a high level of radioactive pollution. A plane crash, a bomb, or simply a hydrogen explosion would be enough to potentially trigger a disaster, like most recently at Fukushima in Japan
(whose reactors do, however, at least feature containment vessels).
Little wonder then that there is much concern about the plant, e.g. at the IAEA
as well as in neighbouring Turkey
, which is understandably unhappy about the plant's proximity to its borders ... not that Armenia would worry so much about that
in its relations with its old western foe (cf. e.g. Tsitsernakaberd
Armenia has for decades relied on Metsamor to produce about 40% of its electricity. So it would be hard for the country's economy to do without the plant, though there is talk a bout a new nuke to replace the old pile. Currently it is planned to give the old Metsamor plant a lease of continued life for at least another decade … we'll see.
As a dark tourist in Armenia you can give some thought to the whole issue when driving (or more likely being driven) past the place en route to Sardarapat
, for instance. Actually visiting the precarious plant is not an option, and my guide wouldn't even let us get up closer than a good mile or so, when I requested a photo stop ... hence only the less then perfect shot above. But it can still count as a little dark tourism bonus on top of the country's other portfolio of dark sites.
Metsamor is normally on the mainstream (cultural) tourism radar for something totally different: its museum displaying ancient archaeological finds as well as a row of large phallus stones outside – from where you can see the nuclear plant's huge cooling towers in the background … an intriguing juxtaposition indeed!
Tours combining Metsamor (the museum mainly, but possibly a short photo stop for the nuke facility too), Sardarapat
and usually also Echmiadzin, the Holy See of the Armenian Church, are offered by various operators from Yerevan
to the north of the village Metsamor, about a mile off the main M5 road going west from Yerevan
and Echmiadzin towards Armavir, which is about 5 miles (8 km) west of Metsamor.