Nuclear Ambitions


Economic News

22 Jul 2010
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On the back of controversy surrounding the announcement of Iran's enriched uranium programme, Turkey has also been looking for ways to secure its own nuclear energy supplies.

Turkey's top energy officials and representatives of 14 Turkish firms were invited for talks in Ankara on April 14, with nuclear power on the agenda.

The talks also included the subject of new investment models for energy, alongside the dangers that could possibly arise from the use of nuclear power, according to Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler, who spoke to the press following the meeting.

Yet chiefly the meeting was seen as confirmation of the nation's nuclear plans, as was reflected in the local press.

"Yesterday's meeting confirmed the government's plans to start with a small pilot reactor producing 100 MW from uranium," reported Dogan News Agency the following day.

Initial talks heralding the intent to utilise nuclear power were finalised back in March 2006, with the announcement that a location had been chosen for Turkey's first nuclear plant.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted by the Turkish media on April 14 as saying the Black Sea coastal town of Sinop was "the one".

Sinop has been chosen from eight possible locations based on a list of criteria which include seawater temperature, climate, wind and general weather conditions, according to Turkey's Atomic Energy Agency (TAEK).

TAEK's president, Oktay Cakiroglu, announced on April 14 in a speech to a parliamentary commission that technical studies conducted countrywide had shown Sinop to be a good location to build the plant based on the agency's criteria, and that a technology centre would soon be established there.

The region surrounding the Sariye Dam was also thought to be a candidate for the facility, but was later found to be unsuitable due to transportation problems in the area.

In the latest report by TAEK, dated March 15, plans on where to construct the facility in Sinop were laid out, with the Abali village on the Inceburun, Turkey's northernmost point, noted as the site.

Turkey has felt uneasy over plans by neighbouring Iran to further its nuclear programme as well as Tehran's control over Turkey's energy supply; 90% of Turkey's energy currently arrives by pipeline from Iran and Russia. Earlier this year, Iran cut gas supplies to Turkey by up to 75%, which the Iranians say was down to a technical problem on the Iranian supply side of the pipeline. The situation was resolved quickly and Turkey was largely unaffected by the sudden loss of supply.

Yet prior to Iran's cut in gas supplies, Russia had also cut supplies to Ukraine, which although not affecting Turkey directly, did have many implications for a secured gas supply to the country. Turkey receives much of its gas from Russia through a pipeline under the Black Sea and via the Balkan gas grid.

While seeking to provide secure energy for its population of 70m people, Ankara is also arguing that it can bring a balance to the region in terms of nuclear power as it develops its own programme, say industry insiders and political analysts alike.

With 9000 tonnes of proven uranium reserves, Turkey also has the resources to fuel its own nuclear plant.

Yet Turkey, which is prone to earthquakes and which has the North Anatolian fault line running close to Sinop, will have to pay close attention to the safety and security of such a project.

There are bound to be protests, with some industries known for not being as environmentally aware as international observers may desire, as only this week toxic waste was found discarded in an area near Istanbul.

Dogan News Agency reported on April 15 that barrels of toxic waste were discovered by Gendarme teams in Tuzla, a suburb on the Anatolian side of Istanbul. According to the report, a large number of similar barrels had been discovered earlier this year.

Environmental practises will also be a hot topic as Turkey tries to gear up to enter the EU, with hundreds of small facilities thought to represent a threat to the environment.

Much of this is to do with a lack of investment, although ignorance should not be forgotten. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry released a statement to the press on April 16 which stated that financial constraints were often responsible for the occurrence of such polluted methods of dealing with waste material in Turkey.

An official spokesman from the Ministry told daily Hurriyet on April 17, "Industrialists have a lot of work to do in order to provide a safe, healthy environment," adding that, "we need to make an investment of 70bn euros if we want to achieve EU norms."

Turkey's nuclear ambitions were first initiated in the 1960s. A previous attempt to build a power plant at Akkuyu on the Mediterranean coast also had to be abandoned after strong protests from locals and environmentalists. However, it looks as if 2006 may be the year these ambitions are finally brought to fruition. With the Ministry of Environment and Forestry as well as the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBITAK) working together on the scheme, the aim will be to construct the plant in a safe and environmentally friendly manner.

"Turkey is a very poor country in respect to power," said Fatih Birol, chief economist and head of the economic analysis division at the International Energy Agency. "This has made the country very vulnerable... I think this government is rather determined to go ahead."

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