Despite the unfolding nuclear disaster in Japan, Turkey has made clear that it is not planning to suspend its atomic power programme and is ready to kick-start the construction of its first plant in the town of Akkuyu, in the southern Mersin province. “We want to start this as soon as possible. Everything is ready,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a business forum in Moscow on Tuesday (March 15th).
Last May, the government of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) signed an agreement with Russia on construction of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant. Under the deal, Russian nuclear corporation Rosatom will build the four-reactor facility, with a total capacity of 4,800MW and an estimated cost of $20 billion, which it will then operate for a period of 60 years.
The nuclear accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant following the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami in Japan last week have prompted widespread concerns about atomic power facilities’ resistance to severe natural disasters.
Erdogan and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, however, insisted on Wednesday that the Akkuyu plant, at a site just 25km from an active earthquake fault line, will be safe.
Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted Medvedev as saying during the talks that Rosatom would employ a “new scheme of management” that will make the facility capable of withstanding powerful earthquakes.
“The plant … will be an example for the rest of the world,” Erdogan told reporters at a joint news conference with the Russian president.
According to Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz, the Akkuyu plant will be designed to withstand an 8.0-magnitude earthquake, and could be increased if needed.
“We can’t ignore what is happening at the Japanese nuclear plant,” he was quoted as saying in an interview earlier this week.
The bulk of Turkish landmass lies on the Anatolian plate, which is squeezed in between two other huge tectonic plates — the Eurasian one to the north and the Arabian plate to the west.
Due to its geographical location, the country has a long record of earthquakes, including some powerful ones. In 1999, more than 20,000 people were killed in a 7.4-magnitude quake in the northwest.
Ahead of Erdogan’s trip to Moscow, Hediye Gunduz of the Climate Union for the Mediterranean urged the AKP government to reconsider its decision on nuclear plants and cancel the deal with Russia, Turkish daily Hurriyet reported on Tuesday.
Others have criticised the government for failing to ensure a public debate and transparency on the issue before deciding to move ahead with plans.
“The curious thing is that despite the government’s decision to go nuclear there has been very little debate about the wisdom of such a decision in the country at large,” columnist Andrew Finkel wrote in an article that the pro-government Zaman daily carried on Thursday.
“Nuclear power is an electorally sensitive issue in Germany and the rest of Europe. In Turkey, it does not seem to be,” he said.