Greenpeace International, the prominent environmental organization, and other activists have condemned a $22-billion deal between Turkey, France and Japan to construct the second Turkish nuclear reactor.
The Anatolia News Agency reported over the weekend that Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Japanese leader Shinzo Abe signed an agreement in the Turkish capital of Ankara for the development of a 5,000-megawatt atomic power plant in Sinop, on Turkey’s northern coast along the Black Sea.
It is Japan’s first overseas nuclear agreement since the devastating Fukushima nuclear emergency triggered by the tsunami-earthquake in Japan more than two years ago that killed at least 16,000 people.
The Sinop plant will be constructed by a Japanese-French consortium led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (TYO: 7011) of Japan and Areva S.A. (EPA: AREVA) of France.
(Mitsubishi was involved in the building of the Fukushima plant, while France’s participation in a Turkish energy project was long delayed by the French government’s efforts to criminalize anyone who denied the Turkish-conducted genocide of Armenians during World War I. That proposed law ultimately failed to pass in the French National Assembly.)
Other major companies involved in the project are Japan’s Itochu Corp. (TYO: 8001) and the French utility, GDF Suez S.A. (EPA: GSZ)
Russia’s Rosatom has already agreed to build Turkey’s first nuclear power station -- at Akkuyu, in Büyükeceli, Mersin Province on the southern coast -- starting in mid-2015. It is expected to start producing electricity by 2019.
“This [project with Japan] is a very important deal,” Erdogan told reporters. “With this second nuclear plant, we have also taken the first step toward a third one, which is a lot to us.”
Erdogan also sought to assure the Turkish public that despite the devastating Fukushima nuclear emergency triggered by the tsunami-earthquake in Japan in March 2011, he was satisfied with the safety expertise of Japanese engineers.
(Like Japan, Turkey is also prone to earthquakes.)
"What happened at Fukushima upset all of us,” Erdogan added, reported the BBC. “But these things can happen. Life goes on. Successful steps are being taken now with the use of improved technology.”
Abe also assured that “Japan will transfer its experiences and the lessons it learned from serious accidents to nuclear studies and will contribute to ensuring nuclear safety at the top level,” according to the Anatolia News Agency.
Erdogan also revealed that the Sinop plant is expected to become fully operational by 2028 at the latest, or perhaps earlier.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said the Ankara government plans to start construction on a third nuclear plant sometime around 2023 -- but hopefully, that project will be led by Turkish engineers.
He also addressed the earthquake issue.
“An earthquake more intense than a magnitude of 7.4 [like the one that struck Japan in March 2011] hasn’t happened in Turkey, but we will build a facility that can endure a 9.0-magnitude earthquake,” Yildiz said, according to Turkish media.
BBC noted that Turkey’s economic agreements with Japan over energy matters represent a happy and convenient marriage of sorts – Turkey seeks to reduce its dependence on foreign oil imports as its economic rapidly grows. The Turks currently depend on oil and gas imports (including heavy trade with Iran) for 97 percent of its domestic energy needs.
Meanwhile, Japan, stuck in a lengthy economic malaise, is eager to sell its nuclear technological know-how, particularly in the wake of all the bad publicity generated by the Fukushima incident.
But it is precisely the dark specter of Fukushima that hangs over Turkey’s nuclear energy ambitions.
Greenpeace cites a number of problems related to the new agreement -- for one thing, it claims that the France’s AREVA has “a long, embarrassing history trying to build nuclear facilities.”
An Areva-built reactor in Finland, Greenpeace said, was finished seven years late, replete with safety and construction issues, and more than 3.6 billion euros over budget. Another Areva reactor in Flamanville, France, was completed five years late, at a cost that was almost triple initial estimates, and it also had safety problems.
“Remember that the $22 billion quoted is not a final figure and can be expected to balloon dramatically,” Greenpeace added.
The campaigner group also criticized the Japanese for exporting its nuclear technology, citing that their domestic atomic industry is in disarray.
“Shouldn’t the Japanese nuclear industry clean up its own mess before thinking about making another one somewhere else?” Greenpeace asked.
Greenpeace suggested a much wiser use of the $22 billion for Turkey would be investing in renewable-energy and energy-efficiency project.
“By giving that massive sum to the nuclear industry, the Turkish government is erecting a roadblock to a clean, safe and sustainable future,” it added.
Anti-nuclear activists within Turley itself have already protested the country’s nascent nuclear program. In mid-March, protesters formed a human chain in Istanbul on the second anniversary of the Japanese nuclear disaster to protect nuclear plants in Turkey. Rallies were also held in Ankara.
A Turkish group called Anti-Nuclear Platform has long spoken out against the Akkuyu project and is now spearheading efforts to prevent the construction in Sinop.
“As long as nuclear power plants exist, the [deaths] purporting to be accidents will continue,” the group said in statement.
Sebahat Arslan, a spokesman for the Platform, told Turkish media: "There has been a fondness for nuclear [power] in Turkey for 30 years. We are against nuclear power plants, which our country does not need at all."
In a press statement, the Platform spelled out the residual health damage from the Fukushima crisis upon the local human population.
“Even today, high levels of radiation are being found in Japan’s soil and water,” they said. “Mutations seen in the region’s butterflies are an omen of health problems that will be experienced in future years. According to the results of health screenings from Fukushima province … 44 percent of 95,000 children displayed thyroid abnormalities.”
The group added: “There is only one way to prevent nuclear disasters: Don’t build nuclear power plants.”
However, energy-hungry Turkey is clearly dedicated to developing nuclear power, even if countries in Europe, including Germany, are planning to phase out their atomic projects.
The World Nuclear Association (WNA) reported that in 2011 Turkey’s electricity production totaled some 228 billion gross kilowatt-hours (kWh), of which 45 percent came from gas (mostly from Russia and Iran); 28.5 percent from coal; and 23 percent from hydro.
But energy demand in Turkey is increasingly some 8 percent per year – on a per capita basis, consumption has climbed from 800 kWh/year in 1990 to about 2300 kWh/year currently.
“Plans for nuclear power are a key aspect of the country's aim for economic growth, and it aims to cut back its vulnerable reliance on Russian and Iranian gas for electricity,” WNA stated.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.