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Nuclear zeal melts down near Turkey's Mersin

AKKUYU, Mersin - Hürriyet Daily News | 3/18/2011 12:00:00 AM | GÖKHAN KURTARAN

The nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant in Japan has rapidly turned residents of the southern town of Akkuyu against the project.

A year ago it would have been hard to find anyone in the Mediterranean town of Akkuyu opposed to the idea of building a nuclear power plant nearby and the new jobs and higher living standards it promised. But fast-forward 12 months and the thought is as radioactive as the potential fallout from Japan’s nuclear crisis.

“I grow vegetables and fruits in this region,” 34-year-old farmer Nazmi Söylemez told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Thursday. “But nobody would want to buy eggplants seasoned with uranium.”

The reaction from residents this week contrasts markedly to the attitude prevalent before a March 11 earthquake and ensuing tsunami that caused extensive damage to Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactor, bringing it to the point of meltdown.

“There are no young people left here. Everyone’s gone,” Suat Bulut, a waiter in a local restaurant, told the Daily News on May 14 last year. “[If the plant is built], we will earn money. In my village, everybody would say yes.”

Akkuyu was designated the site for Turkey’s first nuclear plant 30 years ago, but while authorities have long promised that the plant would turn Akkuyu into “a new Paris in five years” and “create new jobs,” even poor economic prospects cannot convince people to support the plant after witnessing the disaster at Fukushima.

“What if the same tragedy were to happen here?” is the most common refrain in the town.

The town of Akkuyu, where the nuclear plant is to be built by Russian State Atomic Corporation, or Rosatom, is situated 140 kilometers from the provincial center of Mersin. Permission to enter the area is granted only after long discussions and phone calls to officials in Ankara.

Security guards at the checkpoint mainly come from Büyükeceli village, the closest residential area, which is also home to the most concerned citizens.

Fatma Gökçe, a 56-year-old villager, told the Daily News that a nuclear power plant would “turn our lives upside down.”

“We have watched the radiation leakage in Japan and don’t want such a plant to be built right next door,” she said.

“My husband has considered covering the house with metal sheets to shelter us from that thing. Do you think it would work?” she asked.

“We have our sun, soil and trees here,” said Gökçe’s 86-year-old mother, Ayşe Kara. “If a plant comes here, we would lose them all.”

She said she was also worried that they could be eventually evacuated from the area due to the possible long-term hazards posed by the Akkuyu plant. “What would we do if they send us from our lands one day?” she asked.

[HH] Preparing for a fight

Pervin Çoban, a member of the Sarıkeçili clan, a nomadic tribe that winters in the area, said she was also concerned about the plant’s impacts.

“We visit this part of the region almost every year,” she said. “But we will not visit if they build a nuclear plant here.”

Noting that she and members of her community had no intention of acquiescing to the reactors, Çoban said, “We are determined to defeat anyone who comes to the village to build the plant.”

Akkuyu and the nearby village of Ecemiş should have been designed as tourist towns rather than an industrial zone, Söylemez said.

Noting that a five-star hotel project on 16,000 square meters of land close to the village was discontinued due to the proposed plant, Söylemez said the plant would also put agricultural activities in the region at risk.

The change in perception has also been seen in the decreasing interest in Russian-language courses that had been launched by the Gülnar District Governor’s Office, said 18-year-old Ahmet Genç.

Mustafa Yıldız, a 67-year-old farmer, said he was concerned about constructing a nuclear plant in an active seismic zone.

“We often have earthquakes here and there is hardly a house without cracks in its walls,” he said. “To comfort us, Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] says [it is also risky] to use LPG tanks at home, but he forgets that an LPG tank explosion destroys just one house, while a nuclear explosion destroys the whole world.”

[HH] Concern and support from up the field

The proposed Akkuyu plant has been causing worry further afield as well.

“We do not know much about the world, but we’ve seen what that thing did to Japan and we do not want one built in Turkey,” said a woman working in a field on the road to the nearby province of Adana. She declined to provide her name.

The agricultural workers’ supervisor, however, held a different view. “These [workers] do not understand the matter,” said 60-year-old Halil Kara. “Our prime minister is right about the decision on the nuclear plant.”

He pointed to the village a couple of kilometers away and said, “We have mobile phone towers in the village and cell phones in our pockets that spread radiation,” Kara said.

“I agree,” said Kara’s friend, 50-year-old Ali Arıcı. “In order to have sufficient energy, we must have nuclear plants.”

[BOX]

[HH] ‘Akkuyu is at risk of an earthquake’

Professor Selim İnan, Geological Engineering Department, Mersin University

“There is at great risk of a tsunami similar to the Japanese. The way earthquakes occur in this region is similar to those in Japan. Throughout history, similar earthquakes have happened around Crete and such an earthquake could easily hit the southern provinces of Turkey, including Muğla, Antalya, Mersin, Adana and İskenderun. There is a fault line called the Ecemiş Fault connected to the East Anatolian Fault Line only 25 kilometers away from where the nuclear plant will be built. In general, these fault lines could create serious earthquakes and tsunamis in the future.”

[BOX]

[HH] ‘Government should talk with all actors’

Dr. Önal Özdemir, chairman of City Health Service of Mersin Metropolitan Municipality

“Turkey has vast sources of energy such as sun, wind and water that do not harm people’s health at all. Without using these sources efficiently, I do not think it’s acceptable to think of nuclear power plants. People could somehow cope with the natural disasters but there is almost no way of dealing with the nuclear [fallout] as we have seen at Chernobyl and Fukushima. I am also concerned about the power plants surrounding Turkey, such as in Armenia. In my view, those plants have to be taken into close supervision by Turkish authorities. Because these power plants generate risk for the whole region not just for the countries in which they are located. In my opinion, the regions have vast sunshine throughout the year and we could make use of this with investments in solar energy. Investment in nuclear energy also harms the tourism potential in the region. Have you ever seen a holiday resort next to a nuclear plant?”

[BOX]

[HH] ‘Let’s have a referendum’

Dr. Bülent Halisdemir, chairman of the Chamber of Environmental Engineers in Mersin

“There were many people in the region saying ‘yes’ to a nuclear power plant before the Japanese disaster took place couple of days ago. Many have started to understand that the decision is way riskier than thought. Many people have started to join anti-nuclear meetings and demonstrations in Mersin recently. We all know that Japanese people were using the best technology with great discipline at the [Fukushima] plant. But so far we see that now they have failed. Also, we are not informed by the authorities about the plant. What will happen to the nuclear waste? There is no clear answer yet. On the other hand, Russia will use a technology that has never been tried before in any part of the world yet. How can we let them do this in Turkey? Turkey also will purchase the electricity for 12.35 cents per watt and pay $51 billion over the next 15 years. While all of Europe is looking for ways to lessen their dependency of Russian energy sources, Turkey is increasing its dependency on Russia with this decision.”

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