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Are Turkiye’s nuclear power ambitions a threat to regional safety?

May 3, 2023 at 8:05 am

A view of Turkiye’s first Nuclear Power Plant Akkuyu (NPP) after it has been officially granted nuclear facility status with the delivery of the first nuclear fuel to the plant site in Mersin, Turkiye on April 27, 2023 [Serkan Avci – Anadolu Agency]

Everyone who watched the American disaster thriller movie called ‘The China Syndrome’, directed by James Bridges in 1979, remembers that the events leading up to the “accident” in ‘The China Syndrome’ are, indeed, based on actual occurrences at nuclear plants. Turkiye’s newly launched nuclear power plant reminds us of this movie. When nuclear power makes the news, it is often for all the wrong reasons. The disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima were both reminders of the risks in ageing infrastructure in current plants, the spiralling costs of building new ones, and the unsolved issue of nuclear waste.

There are currently about 449 operational nuclear reactors, worldwide, that are responsible for supplying around 10 per cent of the world’s electricity. The United States has the most operational nuclear reactors on the planet – 96. Together, they have a capacity of 97,565 MW and, last year, nuclear energy made up about 20% of the country’s electricity generation. France is home to 58 nuclear reactors, which produce about 75 per cent of the country’s electricity. It has said it will cut this amount to 50 per cent by 2035. China (48), Japan (37) and Russia (36) make up the rest of the top five.

READ: Turkiye gains nuclear status with delivery of first nuclear fuel to Akkuyu Power Plant

Relatedly, Turkiye cooperated with Russia to open a new nuclear energy station in Adana, Akkuyu. The opening of the Turkiye’s first nuclear energy facility, whose construction will continue until 2025 under the agreement, was accelerated to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Turkiye, with the introduction of the first nuclear fuel.

It is undeniable that Turkiye is slated to gain the status of a country boasting nuclear energy, as its first plant was set to receive the initial batch of nuclear fuel last week.

The plant, which will have an estimated service life of 60 years with an extension of another 20 years, will produce carbon-free energy around the clock.

Akkuyu is the world’s first NPP project implemented through a build-own-operate model. Under the long-term contract, Rosatom has agreed to provide the power plant’s design, construction, maintenance, operation and decommissioning.

Globally, Turkiye’s first nuclear power plant is supported by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Agency has been accompanying Turkiye through missions and advisory services to support the highest standards for Akkuyu, including nuclear safety and security.

The Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency said nuclear energy should always be a force for good.

“Delighted to accompany Turkiye on this historic day where the Akkuyu project is becoming a reality, at the ceremony of the arrival of the first nuclear fuel at Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant”.

Yet, some Turkish citizens are against Turkiye’s first power plant. They have concerns, after the worldwide disasters. After the Chernobyl reactor accident, the Eastern Black Sea coast was one of the heavily contaminated regions of Turkiye. People on Turkiye’s Black Sea coast say that, after the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown on 26 April, 1986, cancer cases escalated and the incidence of goitre increased considerably.

READ: Turks in Lebanon begin casting votes for Turkiyes May 14 elections

During World War II and throughout the Cold War era, the US generated millions of litres of radioactive waste – a mix of liquid, sediment and sludge – in the name of national defence. The toxic waste, a by-product of creating plutonium for nuclear bombs, was collected for 45 years in underground storage tanks, mainly in Hanford, Washington, and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. Relatedly, the nuclear industry should handle nuclear waste safely in Turkiye and in compliance with the stringent requirements of the Turkish Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Nuclear and renewable energy sources are not an alternative to each other, as of today. The supply of renewable resources may change according to the conditions of the day. The base energy sources that constantly work with the same efficiency are natural gas, nuclear and coal plants, although they are high polluters. While making a country’s energy strategy, it is necessary to strike a balance between these two, to invest in both and to develop capacity. Therefore, nuclear energy is going to help Turkiye in the short term to follow 1.5 C rules and Paris Climate Agreement at the stage of energy transition.

If funded adequately and managed carefully, there is no reason why Turkiye’s newly established plant should pose a danger to the region. On the contrary, it would be one giant step toward the reduction of carbon emissions into our already polluted atmosphere.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.