View of Metsamor from the bedroom of Benik, 68, a former nuclear plant worker. (Stefano Morelli)

A woman buys a newspaper at a newsstand. (Stefano Morelli)

About 20 miles from Armenia’s capital city of Yerevan sits the antiquated Metsamor nuclear power plant. The plant (located in a town also called Metsamor)  has long been a cause for concern for at least two reasons: It was built without containment vessels, and it sits in a seismic zone. In fact, it was closed in 1989 after a devastating earthquake hit nearby. In 2011, National Geographic even suggested that it might be the world’s most dangerous nuclear plant.

According to a 1995 Washington Post article, the plant was reopened because Armenia was desperate to have energy after its neighbor, Azerbaijan, imposed an energy blockade. According to the article, back then, “As many as one-third of Armenia’s 3.6 million people have left, for months at a time or longer, because winters are unbearable and factories stand idle.”

Despite the risks, the power plant is still open, and people still live in the town created for the plant’s workers. There seem to be few alternatives, considering that the plant produces a significant chunk of the country’s energy. According to the World Nuclear Association, the power plant provided 31 percent of the total electricity for the country in 2016.

Photographer Stefano Morelli visited the town in January to document its way of life. What he found was 10,000 people (1,000 who still work at the plant) living in a town of old Soviet buildings, caught “in suspension between doubts and fears, between poverty and survival, between life and death.” Here’s what he saw.


A woman fills up plastic bottles with water. (Stefano Morelli)

A sweater lies on a tree in the garden of the house of one of the most important farming families of Ararat Valley. Their vegetables are sold to the largest supermarkets in Yerevan. (Stefano Morelli)

Goge, 69, a Yazidi shepherd, brings his sheep to eat the little grass left by the ice of the winter, in the gardens under Metsamor’s buildings. (Stefano Morelli)

A street scene in the small village of Zvartnots, near Metsamor. (Stefano Morelli)

Manvel, 58, has lived in Arshaluys with his wife Ruzan, 51, for 30 years. They are farmers and survive thanks to the vegetables and fruits they cultivate and sell. Arshaluys is near Metsamor. (Stefano Morelli)

Susanna, 66, keeper of the House of Culture. (Stefano Morelli)

Students attend a traditional dance course at a school in Metsamor. (Stefano Morelli)

A view of the nuclear plant. (Stefano Morelli)

Mnatsakan, 25, lives with his sick mom in two rooms in a former dormitory of nuclear plant workers in the center of Metsamor. (Stefano Morelli)

Inside the nuclear plant, in the control room of Unit 2. (Stefano Morelli)

Chief engineer Ashot Ordubekyan is seen in his office inside the nuclear plant. (Stefano Morelli)

A now abandoned swimming-pool inside the Sporting Complex, which was an important center for workers. (Stefano Morelli)

A member of a youth soccer team exercises in the basement gym of the Sporting Complex in Metsamor. (Stefano Morelli)

In Arshaluys, Mayis, 52, and his son Edgar, 30, cut wood in the fields near the nuclear plant. Burning wood is the only way to heat a house in this area. (Stefano Morelli)

Benik, 68, a former nuclear plant worker, smokes one of his many daily cigarettes in his living room. (Stefano Morelli)

On Dec. 31, Benik, 68, retired after 20 years at the nuclear plant. His co-workers organized a dinner in his honor at a restaurant in Armavir. (Stefano Morelli)

An evening view of Metsamor. At midnight, the Armenian government switches the power off the street lamps to save energy, leaving Metsamor in the dark. (Stefano Morelli)

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