New gov’t needs to be transparent, accountable on atomic energy
Barçın Yinanç - email@example.comTurkey’s new government needs to adopt a culture of transparency and accountability to proceed with nuclear energy policies, according to an expert.
“Turkey actually has neither transparency nor accountability on nuclear energy issues, which is frightening,” said Professor Gürkan Kumbaroğlu, the newly elected president of the International Association for Energy Economics (IAEE).
Securing the independence of regulatory bodies is equally critical, he added in an interview that was conducted before the general elections.
What was your evaluation of the political parties’ energy policies in view of their election manifestos?
I can say that all of them failed. As a university professor, I can say that easily, simply because they lack the vision of an active engagement, as well as a vision of an economically and ecologically sustainable energy future in accordance with global trends. I see rather vague broad statements that any high school student could say. They are not well-prepared in terms of how they will be achieved.
I see more the focus on growth and not on sustainability, and probably this will create a problem after a new climate agreement, where the aim is to reduce carbon emissions, something that is difficult to attain. In Turkey, the aim is to utilize all domestic coal resources for generating electric power. Turkey has huge resources in terms of coal, but I don’t think this is compatible with the current environmental agenda.
All parties talk about reducing import dependence. It is true; Turkey does not have natural gas, but when you have a wider look, Turkey sits between neighboring countries with huge resources like Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, Iraq and the major consumers in Europe, which is shifting away from coal to gas.
We are doing the opposite. Why are we doing the opposite when the world is going in the other direction? Turkey is a candidate for the EU, and it should rather orient its energy policies according to EU trends.
So you claim Turkey should not get obsessed about being too dependent on gas since it is surrounded by neighbors that have abundant quantities.
Yes, I think Turkey has the ability to diversify resources.
But you are talking about best-case scenarios, and we are not there yet; sanctions continue against Iran, and instability is continuing in Iraq.
But why should Turkey not have the vision to become an energy hub? A huge amount from Russia will come, and it will be sold to Europe. If Turkey becomes a gas hub where the gas is priced, then I don’t see the necessity to limit gas use in Turkey because when it is a hub, then you will use it at the cheapest price.
We are entering the gas era. The Turkish Stream project with Russia brought a new impetus. Only this project has brought a vision. Before that, Turkey was rather a transit country. In order to have a hub, you need to act on it proactively. The gas coming from Azerbaijan will go on to connect to Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). Turkey has no share and nothing to say when the gas leaves Turkey.
I think it should be different; Turkey should negotiate with Greece and with other Eastern European countries on the possible routes and possible investments for gas coming out of a hub from Turkey.
Russia will not and cannot deliver to Greece; that contradicts the EU competition law. That’s why it will be priced in Turkey. The hub can diversify to have more and more supply coming from other source countries.
We should be talking to the EU, to Eastern European countries and to Iran, whose gas can come and connect to the hub in Turkey. Saying that I secured my supply and I am not interested after the gas leaves Turkey is not compatible with the hub mentality, because being a hub requires being active on both the demand and supply side.
You also mentioned international talks on climate change; what should the new government do on that issue?
We were among the last countries to sign the Kyoto protocol and because of that, we could not benefit from the flexibility mechanisms. We need to be more active from the beginning in ongoing climate change talks and endorse a strategy to reduce carbon emissions.
Carbon markets will come up; this is going to be the main driver in the near future. Turkey’s readiness and preparedness for the carbon market will be important.
In this sense, Turkey’s coal policies could create potential problems in terms of the compatibility of Turkey’s strategies with a climate change agreement due in Paris at the end of this year.
What I expect in the near future is the carbon footprint to take effect in international trade.
Do I understand correctly; you say that it will become more difficult for Turkey to sell its products in the international markets if its production leads to high levels of carbon emissions.
What should Turkey do if the new government pursues nuclear energy?
I have studied the agreement with the Russians [on the Akkuyu nuclear power plant to be built in Mersin]. It is an economically well-negotiated agreement; it is very advantageous for Turkey. I think it is not a commercial agreement – at least it does not look commercial for Russia. On the other hand, I am very skeptical and scared about what’s going on in terms of preparations, because nuclear energy has a safety issue in terms of risks and costs, which are interrelated.
There is a significant risk that needs to be taken into account: think of a measure or regulation that would reduce the safety risk to a minimum that would unavoidably lead to increased cost in construction or operation or waste management for the operator. It might also become necessary, for instance, to suspend power generation from the power plant because of the increased risk. Then there is a conflict between the operator and the regulatory authority and even the Energy Ministry, which is responsible for supply security. So that’s why the independence of the regulatory body is of utmost importance.
In Turkey, this is not the case, and this is the major concern I have. In Turkey, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority (TAEK) is the designated authority for safety and security, and the head is chosen by the prime minister and appointed by the president, but they can take him out of office any time they want. So it is not an independent body.
Transparency and accountability is as important as the independence of the regulatory authority. The Energy Ministry has refused a court’s request to see the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on the Akkuyu nuclear power plant project.
This is very frightening. For nuclear power, you have to have the appropriate culture and understanding of risks; there needs to be accountability and transparency, and I see none of them here in Turkey.
Are there any other points you want to raise as far as nuclear energy is concerned?
The first agreement is with the Russians, and it is a different technology than the second power plant which will be constructed in Sinop by a Japanese-French consortium. And there will be a third one that may be done by the Chinese with yet again a different technology.
This could create problems for the regulatory authority. Each one has its specific technology requirements, and each has a different type of necessity in terms of the regulatory framework.
Also, we need to be careful about waste management. Radioactive waste will go to Russia after some time … but how? Who is going to secure the transportation? I am not against nuclear energy, but I am afraid of it when I see what’s going on.
Who is Gürkan Kumbaroğlu?
Gürkan Kumbaroğlu is President-Elect of the International Association for Energy Economics (IAEE) based in the United Sates, and is Professor of Industrial Engineering at Boğaziçi University, Turkey. He is the Founding Director and Chairman of the Board of the Energy Policy Research Center at Boğaziçi University, and he is the Founder and President of the Turkish Association for Energy Economics.
Kumbaroğlu holds a Ph.D. degree in Industrial Engineering from Ankara’s Middle East Technical University. He has worked as a guest researcher at the Center for Energy Policy and Economics, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, and at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He was a visiting professor at RWTH Aachen University, Germany; the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil; the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China; the University of Campinas, Brazil; and the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
Kumbaroğlu is also an editorial board member of the journal “Innovative Energy Policies” and the “Journal of Self-Governance and Management Economics.” He has received several awards and published numerous articles and book chapters on energy and environmental policy.