Turkey: Going Nuclear or What?

The Turkish government seems determined to go nuclear! It has already sealed an exclusive deal with the Russian government to construct Turkey’s first nuclear plant in the Akkuyu region (in the south of Turkey, near Mersin). With a majority in parliament, the hands of AKP deputies were unanimously raised to turn this bilateral agreement into an international one. To justify going nuclear, the minister of energy expressed the basic arguments as follows:

“We are 70 percent dependent on imports for our energy consumption. By going nuclear we will reduce such dependency.”

“We are dependent on Russia for gas imports. By going nuclear we will reduce our dependency on Russia.”

When discussing the nuclear issue, limiting ourselves exclusively to these fallacious points would not be fair. However, as a starting point, let’s address the issue starting with them.

It is true that Turkey is dependent on imports for its primary energy consumption, at a high rate of 72 percent. Within this dependency, the oil import rate is 93 percent, while gas import dependency is even higher, at 98 percent. Turkey paid at total of $54 billion for oil and gas imports (LPG and oil product imports included) in 2011. Reaching 22 percent of Turkey’s total imports bill is certainly not sustainable. It is clear that Turkey needs a radical paradigm change in its energy policy. Turkey has more than enough indigenous sources, most of which are renewables such as wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and hydraulic energy. It is hard to defend nuclear as a solution to Turkey’s energy import dependence. This is not only because the world experienced the Fukushima disaster recently, but because nuclear has a longer list of problems to be rationally answered before even being pronounced as a word in this country.

First things first, yes, Turkey is over-dependent on energy imports, as mentioned. Naturally, one hopes that the “smart” defenders of these arguments can simply explain to us how our import dependence would decrease with the construction of Akkuyu Nuclear Plant. According to this specific agreement, from construction to operation, and from enriched fuel supplies to waste management, Russian companies have a 100 percent monopoly. Turkey, on the other hand, will be giving purchase guarantees for 15 years (US$cents 12.35-15.5/kwh). It is thus hard to understand and agree with the first argument that is frequently pointed out by the minister, which takes us back to our original question: How will our import dependence decrease with an agreement that increasingly binds Turkey with additional and stronger ties?

Then comes the second argument: Turkey is expected to decrease its existing over-dependence in energy to Russia by constructing a nuclear plant which, in fact, belongs to Russia by all means!

Let’s give some detailed data: before the economic crisis Turkey’s overall trade volume with Russia reached $38 billion in 2008. The break-down shows us that Turkey’s exports to Russia only amounted to $6.5 billion, compared to $31.5 billion of Russian exports to Turkey the same year. Such trade relations can hardly be defined as “mutual” dependence; a better term would perhaps be “over-dependence.” Turkey imported 58 percent of its gas from Russia in 2011, while 12 percent of our oil imports were also from Russia. We will now be adding nuclear fuel and three new reactors to the already unbalanced Russian equation.

As we can see, the rhetoric and the practice are significantly divergent when AKP is the main actor of any movie. Needless to say, almost all are horror movies and not comedies.

While responding to questions on nuclear power plants on “Egrisi Dogrusu” (“Pros and Cons”) a TV show prepared and presented by famous journalist Taha Akyol of CNNTuŸrk, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz claimed that the nuclear power plants to be built in Turkey did not pose as great a risk as critics were trying to prove. Yõldõz tried to justify his views by “sharing” the “findings” from a “sociological survey” conducted in the United States.

Yõldõz claimed: “The survey clearly showed that the life expectancy of bachelors was six years shorter than married people in the U.S.; smoking shortens people’s lifetime by an average of 2.3 years, poverty by 700 days, heart conditions by 2,100 days, and airplane crashes by one day. However the shortening effect of nuclear power plants on life expectancy has been determined as only 0.03 days.” Such an unchallengeable comparison could only leave a person speechless.

Another “highly scientific” comparison came from the prime minister himself. “We are not going to step back from our nuclear agenda. There is no investment with zero risk. If we follow the mindset of nuclear opponents, then we should also avoid using LPG in our homes. For example, bridges are collapsing. Won’t we construct bridges then?” Erdogan said.

Following these “comments” in favor of nuclear energy, one sees how Turkey’s ruling party seems dedicated to go nuclear. Unsurprisingly, Turkey now seems to be running for two additional nuclear plants: one in the Black Sea region of Sinop, the second in the Thrace region of Igneada.

Nowadays, the nuclear issue is treated as simply a matter of trade, without considering its major problems such as very high investment costs, high-risk operational safety, as well as the still-unresolved waste removal problem. As mentioned, the “package deal” of Aug. 6 2009, included eight deals between Turkish private companies and Russian state-run companies. It seems like Russians are capturing the Turkish internal gas market, constructing-operating a nuclear plant and also supplying the fuel for its life-cycle by constructing a refinery in Ceyhan (a city in the south of Turkey), with “some” Turkish companies making profits. This may be the “final strategy” of the governing party, but it is hardly a safe and promising path to follow for Turkey.

Turkey should not go nuclear under the current global and local conditions. Nuclear technology has a lot to do to prove its “innocence.” Turkey has more than enough indigenous energy sources to satisfy its growing energy demand. Increasing energy efficiency is another possible radical path of improvement. There must be a more rational, reliable, clean and sustainable policy alternative to Turkey’s energy dilemma than going nuclear.

Those who have eyes but close them not to see, and those who have ears but close them not to hear will possibly not be interested. Nevertheless, it is still worth sharing some recent quotes on Fukushima:

* “When I discovered it was built right over a minor fault, I threw my hands in the air. When I asked why they did it, they explained they did not want to have too long a cooling pipe from the oceanÉ”
(Lee Furlong, Scientist and Auditor for the IAEA)

* “There is talk of an apocalypse and I think the word is particularly well-chosen. Practically everything is out of control”
(Gunther Oettinger, EU Energy Commissioner)

* “Basically whatever can go wrong has gone wrong.”
(John Price, British Nuclear Safety Expert, former Monash University Professor)

* “This may be a situation where people may be called in to sacrifice their livesÉIt’s very difficult for me to contemplate that but É it may have reached that point.”
(Robert Alvarez, Senior Scholar at the Institute of Policy Studies)

* “What is clear is that those working there are receiving radiation and should be treated as heroes.”
(Javier Dies, Head of Nuclear Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Barcelona)

* “We carried on working to restore the reactors from where we were, right by the sea, with the realization that this could mean certain death.”
(Michiko Otsuki, Employee of the Tokyo Electric Power Company)

* “The radiation levels are near lethal right now. At a certain point they will have to abandon ship. There will have to be a suicide mission to go in.”
(Michio Kaku, Professor at the City University of New York)

* “In terms of severity, this accident left Three Mile Island in the rear-view mirror several days ago.”
(Peter Bradford, Former Commissioner at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

* “The Japanese nuclear crisis has the potential to be larger than Chernobyl, because there are hundreds of tons of nuclear waste stored in the reactor cores that could be lofted into the environment.”
(Michio Kaku, Professor at the City University of New York)

* “This is Japan’s most severe crisis since the war ended over 65 years ago.”
(Naoto Kan, Japanese Prime Minister)

About Necdet Pamir

B.Sc., Petroleum Engineering, Instructor at Bilkent University, Former Board Member at World Energy Council, Turkish National Committee