Land and Resources, Environmental Issues
Metsamor, light industries, catastrophic earthquake, environmental threat, Soviet government
Armenia’s environment became severely polluted during the Soviet period. The Soviet government introduced heavy industries—which emit more pollution than light industries—on a massive scale throughout the Soviet Union. The government long ignored the environmental harm caused by these industries, but in the 1980s liberalizing political reforms in the USSR resulted in the formation of environmental groups, which began to express concerns about the state of the environment. Because of pressure from these groups, several factories in Armenia that were sources of severe pollution were closed beginning in 1989. One of these factories, a rubber and chemical plant in Nairit, reopened in 1992 because Armenia needed the income generated by exporting the plant’s products. Although national environmental laws have been put into effect in Armenia since it became independent, no comprehensive environmental protection program has emerged, and environmental initiatives are typically addressed on an ad hoc basis.
In an attempt to offset a six-year-old energy crisis caused by blockades by Azerbaijan and Turkey, the Armenian government in mid-1995 reactivated a nuclear power plant at Metsamor, which had closed in 1988 after a catastrophic earthquake in northern Armenia. Environmental groups opposed the reopening because the plant poses an environmental threat. Although it is in an earthquake-prone area, it was not built to withstand earthquakes. Portions of Armenia also were rapidly deforested during the winters of 1992, 1993, and 1994, as trees were often the only available source of fuel.
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