Turkey is going nuclear by 2030: Part 2
This does not mean that the Akkuyu project will have a smooth path towards the 2023 target and beyond. The government presents nuclear energy as cheap, sustainable and environmentally friendly. It is also portrayed by many as a powerful way to diversify the country’s energy portfolio while at the same time reducing energy dependence and spilling over to the civilian economy.
However, as a country, which had experienced the consequences of Chernobyl disaster in 1986, it is not easy to convince people completely of the benefits of a nuclear plant within the borders. In the public debate, there is no shortage of prejudice, misperception and ideological preferences for a variety of reasons, including public opposition, high capital cost and financing difficulties, and insufficient governance and management capacity on the part of the Turkish state agencies.
Perhaps, the biggest concern is the lack of an independent nuclear regulator and a ‘‘safety culture’’ in state institutions that is commensurate with the risks inherent in nuclear operations. Public consultation and dispute settlement mechanisms does not exist yet. Political concerns and bureaucratic interests might be at play instead of technical assessments of supply and demand.
New nuclear is also seen as more expensive and slower to build than wind and solar generation, never mind natural gas. More importantly, Turkey is not facing any immediate energy shortage, thanks to a combination of local and renewable resources and energy efficiency measures. Therefore, the nuclear industry needs to work harder to persuade the public at large, and not only political decision-makers, about its benefits.
What’s in it for Turkey?
Undoubtedly, there are many good reasons to acquire nuclear energy for a dynamic emerging economy like Turkey. It should be judged not only based on fulfilling Turkey’s future energy demand and creating a balanced energy mix, but also facilitating rapid development in other sectors through advanced technology and knowledge diffusion.
Fossil fuels dependence kept energy costs high, turned the trade balance to Turkey’s disadvantage and constrained its diplomatic negotiating power. Renewables, though impressively on the rise, are still insufficient to make up the gap. In addition, a nuclear energy program is seen as a matter of prestige.
From a strictly climate change perspective, nuclear power brings significant improvement over conventional coal-burning or natural gas-fired power plants. A nuclear plant does not directly produce greenhouse gas emissions (unless it is running idle, being refueled or operating on backup generators), and it emits about one-tenth to one-twentieth the carbon dioxide emissions over the course of its lifecycle as compared with a comparatively sized conventional, fossil-fueled power plant.
Historic Russian support
If the Akkuyu project is viewed only as a political initiative this will be a big injustice. For any investor it represents strong commercial benefits, given guaranteed feed-in tariffs for 15 years and “strategic investor” status offered by the Turkish government.
This project also reflects the historic ties of industrial collaboration and joint ventures in heavy industries since the early years of the republic. It is part and parcel of the current partnership between the two countries encompassing trade, investment flows, defense procurement, construction, energy trade, tourism and geopolitical bargains over the Black Sea, Caspian, east Mediterranean, Iraq and Syria.
When fully operational, this Greenfield facility will represent yet another landmark example of the Russian support at a time when most Western nations are not so enthusiastic about building nuclear capacities in Turkey.
Completing Akkuyu in time
Despite some setbacks, the Akkuyu project moves forward at full speed. Longer-term, Rosatom entities intend to retain at least 51 percent of the company, with 49 percent available to non-Russian strategic investors. This was nearly taken up in mid-2017 by a consortium of three Turkish companies: Cengiz Holding, Kolin Construction and JSC Kalyon Construction, each to hold 16.33, but these companies failed to reach a commercial agreement with Rosatom and had to pull out of the project.
There are still several more steps to take nuclear by 2023, the centennial of Turkey’s founding, but overall, most signals point to a successful completion of the Mersin Akkuyu plant. The support levels will likely increase among the skeptical public if trust can be instilled on the matters related to right technology, price, operation and safety surrounding this project.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
*Mehmet Öğütçü is a former diplomat and now chair of the London Energy Club and The Bosphorus Energy Club.
*This article is a follow-up of the "Turkey is going nuclear by 2023: Will it succeed?" opinion piece, published on Dec. 16.