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Tsunami sweeps away 'atomic renaissance'

ISTANBUL - Daily News with wires | 3/13/2011 12:00:00 AM |

Engraved in minds around the world, TV footage of a nuclear power plant’s reactor exploding in Japan will be a setback for the so-called ‘nuclear renaissance’ in energy, according to many. Calling on the government to halt nuclear power plans, a Turkish organization says the planned Akkuyu power plant is on an active fault line, but Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız remains unfazed

The frightening possibility of a meltdown at a Japanese nuclear reactor hit by a massive earthquake is threatening the global expansion of nuclear power in the world, as a Turkish organization has urged officials to halt atomic power plans.

Turkish policymakers, however, seemed unfazed by the blow to the so-called “nuclear renaissance” in the world. Speaking in Ankara on Sunday, Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said there is too much “information pollution” during times of disaster and accident, when asked to comment on Saturday’s explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi No. 1 reactor in Japan.

The damaged plant was built in 1971, Yıldız said. “What happened there is being confused with what happened in Chernobyl [in 1986]. In the latter, there was a chain reaction. In Fukushima, we have learned that such a reaction has been stopped.”

Japanese teams started flooding the reactor with seawater and boric acid on Sunday to prevent a meltdown and eliminate the potential for a catastrophic release of radiation, according to Bloomberg News.

Minister Yıldız also said the government’s plans to build nuclear power plants in Turkey involve third-generation plants, while the Fukushima plant is a first-generation one. “After the Chernobyl disaster, designers have put safety at the fore,” Anatolia news agency quoted him as saying.

The damaged reactor in Japan was designed by US company General Electric.

[HH] Building in quake zones

The picture drawn by a nongovernmental organization, however, was not as bright. In a written statement, the Chamber of Electrical Engineers, or EMO, said what happened in Japan provides a crucial warning for Turkey, which is preparing to start construction on a nuclear plant in Akkuyu, in the Mediterranean region.

“The Akkuyu plant will be only 25-30 kilometers from the Ecemiş fault line,” EMO said in the statement. “Our warnings that a nuclear power plant cannot be built in an earthquake zone have continuously been ignored.

“The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government, has implemented an international agreement giving Russia a nuclear plant in Akkuyu, without even holding a tender,” the organization said, noting that the town of Akkuyu is situated on a fault line.

“The disaster in Japan shows that the claims of safety by nuclear energy defenders are worthless when a real natural disaster occurs,” the statement said. “The claim that nuclear power plants are safe provided the construction is sound and safety precautions are implemented [has proven to be] untrue. As all eyes can see, even an advanced safety culture and a high work discipline loses meaning when such a big disaster occurs.”

The Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant Electricity Production company, partnered by five Russian groups, was established Dec. 14 last year. According to a Turkish regulation dated 1983, a nuclear power plant must obtain three licenses.

The first, regarding the location, was given for the current construction in 1976, when Turkey first floated the idea of building a nuclear plant in the south. EMO noted that this decades-old license was never updated. “A location license that does not take into consideration the changes that occurred during a full 35 years is unacceptable,” said the organization.

[HH] Authority without bidding

The second license, involving construction, was never obtained as no bidding process was involved, EMO said. “It is evident that first the deal was struck and then an evaluation on whether the construction will address earthquake conditions will be realized,” said the statement. “This is unacceptable. Many scientists have been saying that the Ecemiş fault is 300 kilometers long and it passes as close as 20-25 kilometers from Akkuyu. It is also an active fault that has been silent for a long time, which means a dangerous energy accumulation that could result in a temblor with a magnitude of between 6 and 7.”

The AKP government has “neglected the rule of law through an inter-state agreement,” according to EMO. The group called on the government to “take what happened in Japan seriously” and “give up on its nuclear plant adventure.” EMO said ongoing talks with Japanese companies to build a second nuclear plant in the Black Sea city of Sinop should also be stopped.

Currently there are 442 nuclear reactors worldwide that supply about 15 percent of the globe’s electricity, according to the World Nuclear Association. There are plans to build more than 155 additional reactors, most of them in Asia, with 65 currently under construction.

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