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Nuclear Energy in Turkey: Looking Forward

February 1, 2011

In any other country, perhaps the gargantuan concrete funnels would remind people of Chernobyl or of Homer Simpson’s workplace. But in Bursa, the city of 2 million in western Turkey, they seem to imitate the tea glasses ubiquitous throughout the country. Either way, they are not from a nuclear plant. “It’s only a natural gas power plant,” says Osman, a tour guide during the high season. “We’ll have nuclear soon enough.”

He is correct on the first part, but likely not the second. Turkey and Russia signed a deal in Spring 2010 to build a nuclear plant on Turkey’s Aegean coast, far from inland Bursa. The plant would be owned and operated by the Russian state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, and is valued at around U.S. $20 billion. However, there are many hurdles that remain before Turkey becomes a nuclear power.

Securing land and acquiring consent from a tangled bureaucracy including the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority, and the Energy Market Regulation Authority will take time, and construction is slated to begin in 2014. It will likely take years to go online from that point. And the complexities only begin from there.

Turkey currently has a diversified energy market that imports primarily from neighboring Iran and via pipelines from Azerbaijan and Russia. The country is trying to become more energy-independent but has run into environmental concerns over its coal plants. Turkey’s largest hydroelectric dam system, the Southeastern Anatolian Project, has come under fire for flooding heritage sites and putting undue pressure on the region’s Kurdish and Syriac minorities, as well as restricting the Tigris’ and Euphrates’ flow into Iraq and Syria, situated downstream.

Recent hydroelectric projects in the Eastern Black Sea region of the country have come under heavy criticism for the damage they will wreak on the ecosystem, which appears similar to but is far more biologically diverse then the America’s Pacific Northwest. Turkey’s Energy Minister, Taner Yildiz, has not helped his own cause with tone-deaf quotes such as, “if you hate our policy so much, stop using our energy.” Turkey’s current Environmental Minister, Veysel Eroğlu, was the head of the State Hydraulic Works until 2007.

In this atmosphere, the government’s attempts to compromise with civil society by constructing a nuclear plant make sense. However, a new competitor may not be welcome to join Turkey’s titans of the economic industry.

Currently, nuclear energy is priced far above the other, more traditional, forms. It would take more than political expediency to change this; the Turkish energy companies are in many ways stronger than the state. The largest of them are run by the great holding companies of Turkey; Sabancı, Çalik, Doğan, and Koç, companies which took advantage of Turkey’s economic opening in 1982 under President Turgut Özal to dominate Turkish industry. When BOTAŞ, the state crude oil firm, was set to be privatized, no company stepped forward to buy it, finding administration costs (which include tending to a pipeline between Kirkuk in Northern Iraq and Ceyhan, Turkey that is consistently targeted by Kurdish rebels) more overbearing than possible gains.

Turkey’s energy strategy is centered on the state offering 10-15 year contracts to distributors, varying depending on energy type. “This leads to considerable politicization,” says Mert Bilgin, a professor at Bahçeşehir University. “Wind and solar energy was incentivized in 2008, but now has been ignored in favor of hydroelectric power.” In addition to the controversial plans listed above, there have been substantial natural gas finds in Anatolia and ExxonMobil is working with Petrobras on a deep-sea petroleum project in the Black Sea. “Turkish energy suppliers act in aggression to each other,” says Bilgin, “the costs and terms of the deal offered by the state are key.”

With domestic consumption growing at two times the global average, however, there may be an opening for nuclear energy in Turkey. Aldrige Minerals is currently prospecting for uranium with promising results, and the government’s agreement with Russia reveals a strong interest in developing nuclear power. With the imminent death of the Nabucco natural gas pipeline, Turkey is looking for more opportunities to expand and diversify its trade with the Balkan countries.

Ever since it came to power in 2002, the current government, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been locked in a legalistic and ideological feud with the military establishment. And while there are rumors that the current government would like to move into nuclear energy to taunt the military leaders – many of whom have been pushing for a domestic nuclear program since 1960, this may be a stretch of facts to fit preconceived notions. “Companies drive policy, not governments,” said Prof. Bilgin. The decision to accept nuclear energy in Turkey will likely not be up to the AKP government, Iran, the United States, or even the IAEA.  The decision will be made by a holding company that finds it worthwhile to invest.

Below are sources. Forgive me, I got a bit lazy with the linking:

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 14, 2014 7:28 pm

    An update on the True Causes of the Turkey- Israel Conflict

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