Nuclear: lack of knowledge or insistence on not learning?

Nuclear: lack of knowledge or insistence on not learning?

I was the only Turk participating in the World Nuclear Association (WNA) last week in London. The WNA is the United Nations of the nuclear industry. Almost all of the companies that produce and enrich uranium and 85 percent of nuclear energy producers are members of the association.

In order to avoid a mistake, I carefully checked the list of participants and asked an official if there were any Turkish members. He answered: “There is only one member, the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority (TAEK). But, for many years they have not been paying fees and not participating. For this reason, perhaps we should not call them members.”

Our people were not there, but there were nearly 10 experts from Russia, the country that will be building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant. Alexander Superfin, who will be running the Akkuyu nuclear project on behalf of the Russians, was among those whose name was on the list.

Chinese, French, Japanese, Canadians and Koreans - all of whom are seeking to win the right to build the second Turkish nuclear power plant - were also there.

Our people were not. The energy ministry, TAEK, public power companies, one of Akkuyu’s first partners the Park Group, those companies who want to sell their goods to the power plant… None of the corporations or companies you would assume to be interested in the subject was in London. Either they already know everything or they do not want to learn anything.

I participated in every session of the two-day conference because I wanted to fill my deep well of ignorance with knowledge, as much as possible.

The second most significant thing I learned was this: Our people were not there not because they knew everything, but because they did not want to learn anything.

The first most significant thing is this: Turkey entered the nuclear power plant business with a huge void of knowledge, legislation and institutional capacity. Its journey is continuing the same way. The government tender to buy the services of expert consulting companies is proceeding with snail steps. However, these consultants should have been hired before the job started.

Several speakers explained what those countries that are nuclear newcomers should be doing in order to make the least number of mistakes. When what has been done and what has not been done in this regard are compared, it is easy to understand that our shortcomings are continuing.

One should not expect those nuclear newcomer countries to be fully knowledgeable in every aspect. But, I suppose, they should not to be this empty after so much time has passed either.

Jay Gutierrez from the International Morgan Lewis and Bockius law firm said having an independent regulatory agency was the indispensable condition of a successful program. Independence is a must because - for the project to follow a healthy path - the regulatory agency should be free of political and commercial pressure. You can say many things about TAEK, but you cannot say it is an independent agency, remote from political pressure.

In addition, according to Gutierrez, the infrastructure in place must be “transparent, stable and predictable at every step.” These adjectives, I suppose, are also very far from us.

The government’s entrance into the nuclear energy sector can be defended. However, the methods it has selected for this entrance and for its management cannot be defended.

The “alla turca” entrance into this field - which is troublesome and full of risks even under the best of conditions - is dangerous.

Metin Münir is a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this piece was published on Sept. 19. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.