Turkish nuclear power – an unwarranted venture

Turkish nuclear power – an unwarranted venture

On Nov. 9, 2007, the ruling Justice and Development Party passed a law in the Turkish Parliament to build nuclear power plants in Turkey, which started the nuclear ball rolling. The government argued that this venture would provide “cheap,” “clean,” “safe” and sustainable energy to help rapidly expanding and diversifying Turkish industry. Of course, none of these claims about nuclear power is true. In fact, it is extremely expensive, unclean, unsafe and unsustainable.

As a first step, the government granted permission to the Russians to build a 4800 megawatt nuclear power generation unit in Akkuyu, Mersin. Energy Minister Taner Yildiz informed the press that the Mersin unit would provide 5% of the nation’s energy needs by the one hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish Republic. It thus became obvious that Turkey would take enormous risks for just 5% of her energy needs. However, a few weeks ago the Prime Minister announced that nuclear energy would expand further, to create 10% of the country’s energy supply.

This expansion plan is taking place in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in Japan, which scared the wits out of the world community. Some nuclear nations, notably Germany and Switzerland, have already decided to do away with the nuclear power. What do the Turks want? Surveys reveal that more than two thirds of the Turks do not want nuclear power. A government that constantly argues that it represents the will of the people is actually acting against the will of the people in this case.

At the beginning of the nuclear age after the Second World War there was excitement that nuclear power would be “too cheap to meter.” But today nobody believes that nuclear power is cheap. Studies in France (available from the author), the most nuclear dependent nation, reveal that nuclear energy is more expensive then hydro and fossil fuel powered units, even when the end cost of nuclear power plants - which is decommissioning and storing highly dangerous nuclear wastes in repositories for thousands of years – is ignored. The most expensive and risky problem with nuclear energy is the safe disposal of the radioactive waste. It has to be transported over long distances, stored and monitored over a very long period of time.

A few months ago the Mersin Akkuyu Nuclear Electricity Production Corporation commissioned an “independent” engineering company, DOKAY, to carry out an environmental impact assessment of the proposed nuclear power unit. In its over 100 page report, DOKAY provided a “pleasing” document to its sponsor. As for nuclear wastes - the end product - only a few sentences are reserved, which is quite outrageous.

There are more than 400 nuclear reactors operating in various countries. A nuclear power station has 35-40 years of operating life. After that it must be dismantled and the area must be cleaned up (the decommissioning process). But so far, no nuclear power station has been completely decommissioned in the world. It has been estimated that decommissioning could last about 50 years and it would cost more than the construction cost. One of the earliest decommissioning efforts is taking place at Dounrey plant, on the northern tip of Scotland. It started more than 15 years ago and we need at least 30 years more to finish the job. After that, waste must be stored in nuclear graves (waste repositories) for thousands of years. United States regulations require the storage period to be at least 10,000 years.

The cost of decommissioning and waste storage will fall upon future generations at huge costs. My American colleague, Prof. S. Frachette, argues that large quantities of nuclear waste is likely to endanger the health, safety and civil liberties of generations yet to be born. So there is an undeniable moral issue here. Of course, in Turkey these problems will fall mostly upon the future generations, our children and grand children, and they will not be grateful to us for that.

As for the alleged cheapness of nuclear energy, even when ignoring decommissioning and waste storage costs, the situation is actually the reverse. Electricity produced by the Russian company at Akkuyu will be bought by TEDAS and then distributed to the users. TEDAS will pay the producer $0.1234 per unit. What will the users pay? TEDAS will base this on sum distribution costs, waste allowances, retail service allowances, meter reading costs, energy taxes, value added taxes and radio-television taxes. At the moment the consumer is paying about $0.12 day-time and $0.076 night-time. When nuclear energy starts reaching customers they will pay more than what they pay today, in a country where energy prices one of the most expensive in the world.

Advocates of nuclear energy argue that we need nuclear energy to meet the growing demand. In Turkey, 15-20 percent of the electricity produced is lost in distribution and stolen by the end users. So the most logical step to take is to prevent waste and pilferage. We do not need nuclear power. The Akkuyu unit is likely to cost $20 billion. Obviously some people, including the Russians, will make a lot of money at the expense of Turkish customers. This is why the vested interest is passionately arguing for nuclear power.

Professor Erhun Kula, from Istanbul’s Bahçesehir University, researched economic and moral aspects of nuclear power in the U.K., the United States and Sweden, and has published widely in this field.