In an effort to join the club of nuclear nations, Turkey has announced plans to build 12 nuclear reactors by 2030, with the intention that 20% of power generation capacity will be provided from this source. However, while eight projects have been approved, delays have already befallen the initial build-own-operate (BOO) project, Akkuyu 1, pushing the commencement of its operations to 2022 from the previously announced 2020, and numerous other obstacles remain. Chief among these are economic conditions, the environment and the fact that some 64% of Turks oppose atomic power, according to environmental group Greenpeace.

Long-Held Dream

Turkey’s nuclear aspirations harken to the 1970s, but gained renewed momentum in 2006 when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time, announced plans for atomic power stations to be up and running in time for the republic’s centennial in 2023. The new industry will contribute to another anniversary goal: to have at least 30% of electricity generated via renewable resources. The target looks attainable, but much of this capacity is expected to come from wind farms, solar parks, geothermal plants and hydroelectric dams. Nuclear power would provide 15 GW, or 5% of overall electricity, the European Energy Markets Observatory notes.

Progress on building the plants has been slow. Reuters reported in January 2014 that work on the country’s first nuclear power plant, at an expected cost of $20bn, on the Mediterranean coast near the town of Akkuyu was behind schedule, and the original 2019 completion date was delayed. Construction of the first of four 1.2-GW pressurised-water reactors by Russian state atomic engineering company Rosatom was delayed until later in 2015, awaiting the approval of an environmental impact assessment, pushing back the start date to 2020. Following the collapse of oil prices in late 2014 and new regulatory challenges, further delays were expected to hamper activation until 2022.

Akkuyu’s lead contractor, Atomstroyexport, Russia’s atomic-power equipment provider, cited difficulty in awarding construction subcontracts due to regulatory issues. Furthermore, Russia’s financial position following the decline in oil prices is impeding funding of the project. During a meeting with Turkish energy minister, Taner Yıldız, in March 2014, Rosatom’s chief executive, Sergei Kirienko, said Akkuyu could provide $5bn in contracts for Turkish companies.

Another challenge has involved a tender for the inspection company that will review Rosatom’s design specifications. As of early 2015 the tender had been cancelled three times because bidders had not met the government’s pre-qualification criteria. Yıldız had said the tendering process would not affect progress on the plant and analysts have suggested the delay may be due to both sides continuing to bargain over other aspects of a broader energy deal. However, it is clear the 2023 deadline is becoming more of a challenge.

Flick the Switch

Once up and running, Akkuyu will be operated by Rosatom and its subsidiaries on a BOO basis. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) noted this was the first time a BOO approach had been applied to a nuclear plant. “The BOO model has been successfully implemented in other energy projects. The model allows newcomer countries to benefit from the human resource capacity of the technology providing country in the short term and may save time in developing its nuclear capacity in the long term,” Necati Yamaç, head of the nuclear energy project at the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, told the IAEA.

“The BOO model may help in ascending the steep learning curve that a newcomer country faces when implementing its first nuclear power project: the future workforce in embarking countries comes from either a nuclear research group, which has to quickly learn the challenges of implementing a big industrial project, or from an existing utility that would be faced with the challenges of such a project. The financial risk is left to the project company, which enters into contracts with its own shareholders for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the plant,” Yamaç added.

Electricity from Akkuyu will be sold to the transmission network operator Turkish Electricity Trading and Contracting Company at a guaranteed power-purchase agreement price of $12.35 per KWh – a 30% premium over the average wholesale price – for 70% of the output of two of the reactors and 30% of the other two for the initial 15 years of operation. Rosatom will sell the remaining electricity itself on the open market. Rosatom has also agreed to pay 20% of its profits back to the Turkish state after 15 years and will provide fuel rods and arrange for their disposal for the plant’s operating lifetime, which is between 60 and 80 years.


Sceptics object to the deal because it will do little to reduce Turkey’s energy imports. “From construction to operating this power station, from procuring its fuel supply to managing nuclear waste – it is apparent that at every stage everything is under the Russian Federation’s control,” said Necdet Pamir, chairman of the opposition Republican People’s Party energy commission. “With these conditions, saying that the power station will reduce our country’s energy dependence is, to put it lightly, a frivolous approach.”

Turkey’s second planned reactor along a wooded, windswept patch of the Black Sea coast is further from reality. Following a nation-wide power outage, the Turkish Parliament approved a bill in April 2015 allowing a consortium of Japanese and French engineering companies to build a plant near the town of Sinop, which is expected to cost $22bn. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the Itochu Corporation and GDF Suez have agreed to build and operate the facility. Erdoğan and the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, inked the agreement in 2013. At the time, it was the first Japanese nuclear deal to follow the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

The contract is for a 4.8-GW battery of four third-generation, pressurised-water reactors developed by Atmea, a joint venture between Mitsubishi and French industrial conglomerate Areva. The Turkish Electricity Generation Corporation is set to take a 25% stake, according to World Nuclear News. The power plant is expected to come online in phases: the first is set for 2023 and the fourth for 2028.

The IAEA conducted a review of Turkish preparations for nuclear power. “The report concludes that Turkey has made important progress in its development of nuclear infrastructure for a nuclear power programme and that strong government support for the project is evident,” the IAEA said in February 2014. However, it also noted that Turkey needed a national policy on nuclear energy, a firm regulatory body and a national plan for human-resource development. Turkish Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources officials pledged to address all of the IAEA recommendations.

Despite the challenges with the first two planned facilities, Yıldız has conveyed Erdoğan’s desire for yet another plant. “Hopefully, we will build the third nuclear plant under the management of Turkish engineers. This will be an important test, and I think we will be ready for the task after 2023,” he told local media. The proposed site in Turkey’s Kırklareli Province near the Greek border is near one of the last floodplain forests in Europe.

Neighbours like Greece could raise geostrategic red flags, worried that a nuclearised Turkey could upset the region’s security balances and prompt other Middle Eastern states – already wary about atomic-armed Israel and, potentially, Iran – to go nuclear. Terrorism is another risk, whether to the plant itself or in the management and transportation of nuclear waste, Turkey’s Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies said.

Nuclear Threat

But the main concerns are environmental. Seismologists say both Sinop and Akkuyu are in earthquake-prone areas in a country crisscrossed by geological fault lines, increasing the risk of a meltdown. Since Akkuyu’s nuclear waste will be reclaimed by Russia, it must be transported through Istanbul’s sensitive Bosporus Strait, on the banks of which some 15m people reside. Rare Mediterranean species like the indigenous seal and the caretta caretta turtle could face further endangerment from higher water temperatures caused by Akkuyu using seawater to cool its reactors, according to Greenpeace.

“In the event of an accident, all of Turkey and its neighbours would be affected by radiation fallout,” Greenpeace said, arguing that the launch of an industry as costly as nuclear is unnecessary when Turkey’s projected green-energy potential of nearly 36 GW by 2018 would more than cover demand.

Memories persist of the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl, built by Rosatom, in Soviet-era Ukraine, with some experts linking the rate of cancer deaths in parts of northern Turkey – more than double that of the rest of the country – to the catastrophe across the Black Sea. The more recent triple meltdown at Fukushima in 2011 has convinced others that atomic power is still too risky. That the government has chosen Russia and Japan, whose plants were behind the worst disasters in recent history, worries many. “Until the issues of high costs, operational security, disposing waste and the risks that terrorists could get their hands on the waste are resolved in a reasonable and satisfying way, we need to stay away from atomic power,” Pamir added.