Early this month the Turkish parliament passed a bill authorising the construction and operation of nuclear power plants in Turkey. This motion is being seen as an important initiative in addressing the country's energy concerns.
Though not yet approved by President Abdullah Gul, the bill, passed in parliament on November 8, allows the ministry of energy and natural resources to offer tenders for the construction of nuclear power plants, while also granting the ministry the authority to determine the plants' capacities and locations. The law would allow the government to grant purchase guarantees to companies looking to operate nuclear plants. According to the bill, public institutions will be permitted to build power plants should the private sector show no interest.
Turkey's power trading company, TETAS, will initiate the tender and assess any offers made. Turkey's council of ministers is expected to then give the final green light to the winning bidder(s) and TETAS. The agreement would grant the successful bidder the rights to generate power in its nuclear plant for a 15-year period. Construction of nuclear power plants may begin as early as the end of June 2008, according to the schedule set out by the ministry of energy and natural resources.
The new bill is as an important stepping stone in Turkey's civilian nuclear objectives. The country plans to have three nuclear power plants up and running by 2012, with a total capacity of an estimated 5000 megawatts. This should reduce Turkey's dependency on imported energy supplies from neighbouring states, with record-breaking oil prices continuing to burn a sizeable hole in the government's pocket.
Although many leaders look to the financial advantages promised by the bill, the legislation encountered some roadblocks before passing through parliament. Former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer vetoed the original draft in May. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had to overcome strong resistance from political opposition and environmentalists, and made several technical amendments to the first draft.
The recent initiative comes after numerous attempts to launch a nuclear programme, dating back to the 1960s. Previous efforts were derailed on environmental grounds - particularly the fact that a large portion of Turkey is prone to earthquakes.
In July 2000 Turkey's government was forced to abandon plans to build a nuclear plant at Akkuyu on the Mediterranean Coast. This was partly due to protests from environmentalists in Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, who pointed out that the proposed site was a mere 25 km from a seismic fault line.
Environmentalists and local residents remain up in arms over the bill and potential plans to locate one of the nuclear reactors in Sinop, a city located 435 km northeast of Ankara. Hilal Atici, a local representative for the environmental organisation Greenpeace, said the government should think about renewable energy sources.
Energy analysts point to government efforts to develop renewable energy. Developing 'green' infrastructure and making the necessary investments for renewable energy - whether in the form of wind turbines or otherwise - will take time. Green options do not offer a fast or complete solution to Turkey's thirst for energy.
Meanwhile, some political analysts interpret the passage of the civilian nuclear bill as an indirect response to Iran's alleged military nuclear explorations, which could conceivably spark a nuclear arms race in the region. Though enjoying the protection of fellow NATO member states and on amicable terms with Tehran, Ankara may want to be prepared for a regional nuclear escalation. Developing civilian nuclear facilities provides Turkey with something of a head start should the government decide in the future to consider developing military nuclear facilities of its own.
The president is expected to give the bill his blessings. The Turkish press reports that Turkey's Sabanci Holding is looking for foreign partners in preparation for a bid to construct a nuclear power plant in the country. With Turkey's energy demands so pressing, the nuclear option is proving too tempting an opportunity to ignore.