23 Mart 2011

Forging Ahead on Nuclear Energy in Turkey

ISTANBUL — Struggling through throngs of shoppers on the pedestrian Istiklal Avenue last weekend, a couple of thousand marchers with their anti-nuclear placards did not seem to be getting anywhere. “No to nuclear plants,” the protesters chanted, banging on drums to make themselves heard. But few in the crowd swirling around them appeared to be listening.

The tide may have turned against nuclear power elsewhere, following the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan, but Turkey is being swept along by a different current. Even as governments around the world scrambled to freeze or review their nuclear energy programs last week, Turkey announced the imminent start to construction of the first of its own nuclear plants, and experts say that a majority of Turks probably support the decision.

The cornerstone for the Akkuyu nuclear power plant near Mersin on the Mediterranean coast could be laid in April or early May, said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey following his talks in Moscow last week. Russia has agreed to build the plant under a $20 billion deal signed in May. A similar deal with Japan, signed in December, involves the construction of a second plant near Sinop on the Black Sea coast, while the location of a third proposed plant was undecided.

It is a tricky decision to make, as Turkey is located in one of the most active earthquake regions in the world, and more than 90 percent of its territory is prone to earthquakes. The Akkuyu site in particular is close to a fault line, as the government concedes. Small tremors are registered in the region almost daily, and a quake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale struck the nearby city of Adana in 1998.
Still, Turkey is forging ahead with its nuclear plans in the wake of the Fukushima scare, “even though some environmentalists are doing their best to sabotage the project,” Mr. Erdogan said in Moscow, referring to doubts voiced after the tsunami in Japan, Turkish newspapers reported. “Any project can go wrong, you can’t just drop it because of that. Otherwise you shouldn’t be using gas bottles in your houses, and we shouldn’t have an oil pipeline passing through the country.”

Risk was just a fact of life, agreed the environment minister, Veysel Eroglu, ...

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