Turkey will cross that bridge when it comes to nuclear disaster
The Build, Operate, Own (BOO) model for nuclear power plants transfers all the different types of risks associated with the construction and operation of a nuclear power plant to the project company that owns and operates the plant. In the case of Akkuyu, the management of nuclear waste and the fuel spent are also the responsibilities of Rosatom, a Russian state-owned company.
In a previous article, I had mentioned a recent report prepared by the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies EDAM about the security and safety challenges of the project. One of the most important challenges is to secure a very intensive cooperation between the two countries’ intelligence services, however difficult the Turkish MIT (National Intelligence Agency) and Russian SVR RF becoming best friends might sound.
The BOO looks like a good deal as it minimizes the costs; but as underlined by İzak Atiyas, one of the contributors of the report, “the problem is that the trade-off between minimizing costs and reducing quality is very large.”
The cost of the construction of Akkuyu is expected to be around $20 billion. The two countries have already agreed on the price of the electricity that is going to be purchased. While the construction and maintenance costs might be more than the initial estimates, Rosatom cannot increase the prices to bridge the gap.
Can it compromise from the safety and security standards? In addition to the safety and security challenges that the nuclear power plant itself presents, let’s not forget that the nuclear waste will be transported from Mersin travelling a long way to Russia. Nuclear and radiological material are most vulnerable to sabotage and theft whilst being transported.
The best way to secure safety and security at international standards is to have a well-established monitoring system that oversees the measures. Yet the writers of the report claim Turkey lacks credible and competent regulatory framework for nuclear safety.
Let’s read it from the report: “Cost reduction incentives are in conflict with the need to reach internationally accepted safety standards. Turkey does not yet have a comprehensive law or a regulatory authority that is independent.”
Turkish Atomic Energy Agency (TAEK) is very much vulnerable to political pressures, says Doruk Ergun and Can Kasapoğlu, the other contributors of the report and they add: “As it stands, the regulator is tied to the prime ministry for its appointments and budget. As such, neither TAEK or the provincial governors and law enforcement tied to the Ministry of Interior have immunity against undue political influence.”
To understand what is at skate, the writers of the report have reminded the case with the Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant in Finland.
The plant’s third unit is still under construction. The first license application for the third unit was made in December 2000 and the date of the unit’s start into service was estimated to be 2010; according to Wikipedia.
In December 2012, the French nuclear group Areva, the main contractor estimated that the full cost of construction will be about $8.5 billion, or almost three times the delivery price of $3 billion.
“The delays have been due to various problems with planning, supervision, and workmanship, [and have been the subject of an inquiry by STUK, the Finnish nuclear safety regulator. The first problems that surfaced were irregularities in the foundation concrete, and caused a delay of months. Later, it was found that subcontractors provided heavy forgings that were not up to project standards and had to be re-casted. An apparent problem constructing the reactor’s unique double-containment structure also caused delays, as the welders had not been given proper instructions.”
Can you imagine a Turkish regulatory body “giving hell” to a Russian (and read this a Vladimir Putin) owned company and not get bashed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who might get some nasty calls from his Russian counterpart?
The Akkuyu project is underway but there is hardly enough preparation on the Turkish side to guarantee its safety and security. It is like “we’ll cross that bridge when we come there.” But the consequences are so horrific that it is impossible to understand this nonchalant approach.