This article was published in Ahval News on April 6, 2018
A nuclear project adds a new dimension to Turkey-Russia relations
In a televised programme in the Ankara presidential palace, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin laid the symbolic foundation of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant to be constructed in Akkuyu on the Mediterranean coast.
The plant will be composed of four units each generating 1,200 Megawatts. The first unit will become operational in 2023, the centenary of the proclamation of the Turkish Republic. When the remaining three more units will be completed by 2026, the plant will have a capacity of generating 4,800 megawatts per day, which corresponds to 10 percent of Turkey’s daily consumption.
The deal means more than these figures. It is the reflection of the mutual confidence between Turkey and Russia. Turkey is already over-dependent on Russia for the supply of natural gas – 56 percent of its gas imports are from Russia.
When the Turkish Stream gas pipeline is completed, it will carry 30 billion cubic metres of additional gas per year to Turkey. No matter how much of it will be purchased by Turkey, its dependence on Russian gas will increase. When we add to this 10 percent of the power to be supplied by a Russian-owned nuclear plant, Turkey’s dependence on Russia for the supply of a strategic commodity like energy will increase even further.
Turkey has been eager to construct a nuclear power plant since the early 1970s, but for several reasons this project could not be translated into action:
Firstly, because of the international community’s sensitivity to the acquisition of nuclear technology by new countries. Secondly, nuclear accidents such as that at Chernobyl and elsewhere led to a loss of appetite for the idea in Turkey. Thirdly, there were strong anti-nuclear campaigns all over the world. Fourthly, successive governments in Turkey had other priorities to deal with.
The present Turkish government thought the project should not be further delayed and decided to let Russia build the power plant on the BOO (build, own, operate) model. It also signed an agreement to purchase for 15 years 70 per cent of the power generated by the first and second units and 30 percent of the third and fourth units at a price of 12.35 US cents per kW/h.
This price is three times more expensive than present world prices, but the Turkish government, taking into account that the most expensive energy is the absence of energy, decided to buy it at that price for the sake of stability in Turkey’s power supply. By incorporating the projects among strategic investments, it also provided tax reductions in various expenditures to be incurred in Turkey by Russia for the construction of the plant.
With this important step, Turkey will not acquire nuclear technology, but the number of technical personal who have an idea about various aspects of nuclear technology will increase.
In countries interested in nuclear technology, there is a regulatory body that supervises the implementation of the legislation in force in this highly technical area. In Turkey, the nuclear energy authority is TAEK (Türkiye Atom Enerjisi Kurumu), but this institution has functioned for years both as a regulatory body and an implementing agency. Since there will be now various agencies implementing different portions of the nuclear issues, TAEK will probably withdraw to its main task as a regulatory body.
Turkey has a tradition of receiving strong support from Russia for major industrial projects, such as iron and steel, oil refineries, sugar factory and textile industries. The nuclear power plant will become a continuation of this tradition.
Over-dependence on one single country, especially for a critical commodity like energy, involves risks but, strong economic relations contribute also to the political stability between the states, because both sides will suffer if relations deteriorate. Turkey and Russia need each other at the present juncture, because for different reasons they are isolated in the international community.
This project adds a new dimension, which is rightly referred to as strategic, to Turkish-Russian relations, because of its size, because it is in an area like energy, which is strategic on its own merits, and because it is nuclear.