The first nuclear power plant in Turkey

The first nuclear power plant in Turkey

The ground for the first nuclear power plant in Turkey was laid in the Akkuyu district on the country’s Mediterranean coast on April 3. In the capital Ankara, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin together remotely pushed the button to start the construction work.

The Akkuyu plant will be operated by four VVER reactors with 1,200 MW of power each (a total of 4,800 MW) with Russian technology provided by Rosatom, which will be the dominant shareholder in the plant. At full capacity it is expected to ultimately produce 10 percent of Turkey’s overall electricity. The first reactor is expected to start production by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey, as highlighted by both Putin and Erdoğan in their ceremonial speeches at the presidential compound in Ankara.

Speaking at the ceremony, Erdoğan smiled at Putin and said that “in 2023 they would inaugurate the power plant together, God willing.”

Nuclear energy has been a controversial issue in Turkey ever since it started being debated half-a-century ago. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster just across the Black Sea particularly fuelled fears, together with anti-nuclear campaigns across the world. But as the global mood changed in favor of going nuclear (there are 55 plants currently under construction in 16 countries, other than Akkuyu, in addition to 450 in 31 countries already in service) work restarted almost 10 years ago. Energy Minister Berat Albayrak underlined in yesterday’s ceremony that the plant would be built with cutting edge technology, meeting all international safety specifications.

The first protocol was signed between Turkey and Russia back in 2010, after which hundreds of Turkish students were sent to Russia to be trained in nuclear power plant operation. Ankara signed another protocol with the Japanese government in 2013 for the construction of a second nuclear power plant in Turkey by Mitsubishi, in Sinop on the Black Sea Coast.

It is a fact that Turkey needs more energy to sustain its growth rate, which was realized as 7.4 percent on a yearly basis last year. The country has rather poor conventional energy sources, importing the fuel for nearly 45 percent of its electricity production. More than 32 percent of energy production is coal, more than 26 percent is natural gas, almost the same rate is hydroelectric power, nearly 10 percent is wind, around 2 percent is geothermal, and around 2 percent is solar. It is also a fact that Turkey needs more diversification, giving more weight to renewable, cleaner energy resources in its electricity production. Nuclear energy cannot be dismissed, as long as maximum care for safety is guaranteed with zero tolerance for errors: The slightest fault can carry a cost too high to countenance.

In his speech yesterday, Erdoğan said the Akkuyu power plant was “only one part” of burgeoning ties between Turkey and Russia, also citing the examples of “anti-terror cooperation in Syria” and the purchase of S-400 air defense systems. Erdoğan and Putin, who had extensive talks on economic cooperation after the Akkuyu ceremony, are now also scheduled to discuss the future of Syria today, April 4, with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Ankara.

Murat Yetkin, hdn, Opinion,