Turkey’s nuclear power dilemma

Turkish and Russian officials laid the foundation for the third reactor of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant Akkuyu in the southern coastal city of Mersin on Wednesday.

The plant’s first reactor unit is expected to be operational in 2023, the centenary of the Turkish Republic, and the remaining units in 2026.

The co-construction of the Akkuyu plant started in April 2018, eight years after the two countries signed an intergovernmental agreement.

The project is owned by the Russian energy company Rosatom while the Turkish Akkuyu is the license owner and the local operator.

Once completed, the plant is expected to produce 35 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually, about 10 percent of Turkey’s total electricity supply. The service life will last 50 years.

The facility will launch Turkey into the ”league of nuclear energy countries”, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, hailing it as a “symbol of Turkish-Russian cooperation”.

The co-construction of the Akkuyu plant started in April 2018, eight years after the two countries signed an intergovernmental agreement.

The project is owned by the Russian energy company Rosatom while the Turkish Akkuyu is the license owner and the local operator.

Once completed, the plant is expected to produce 35 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually, about 10 percent of Turkey’s total electricity supply. The service life will last 50 years.

The facility will launch Turkey into the ”league of nuclear energy countries”, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, hailing it as a “symbol of Turkish-Russian cooperation”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who spoke at the event via video-conference from Moscow, called it a “truly flagship project”.

Akkuyu is the only nuclear power facility under construction in Turkey but a second project in the Black Sea province of Sinop is expected to kick off this year, reports suggest, if Ankara can find a new partner after Japan’s Mitsubishi pulled out last year.

The project was agreed on by the Japanese and Turkish governments in 2013. A consortium led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries conducted a feasibility study until March for the construction of a 4,500-megawatt plant in Sinop.

A senior energy official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera the Turkish government is also considering a third nuclear plant with four reactors in the country’s northwest. Turkey’s ultimate goal is not building a nuclear weapon but diversity in energy resources, he said.

Russian dependency?

Since the Akkuyu project was signed, proponents of nuclear energy in Turkey have argued it would limit Turkey’s dependency on foreign energy suppliers. They also underline it is clean energy.

However, some international experts think differently.

Henry D Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington, DC, said Akkuyu’s financing model could further Ankara’s dependency on Russia, a major energy provider to Turkey. The project is fully financed by Moscow.

Sokolski said it is an intensive capital investment and questioned why Turkey frontloads such debt while alternative and cheaper energy resources are coming down the pipeline.

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