Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 203

Amid the continuing tensions over a possible Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is pushing ahead with its plans to establish a nuclear power program.

On October 24 the Parliamentary Industry, Commerce, Energy, Natural Resources, Information, and Technology Committee approved a draft law foreseeing the construction of the Turkey’s first ever nuclear power plants. It is currently unclear when the law will be presented to the full chamber of parliament, although both its approval and subsequent ratification by President Abdullah Gul are expected to be formalities (Radikal, Milliyet, Dunya, Referans, Sabah, October 25).

Turkey is currently heavily dependent on imports of oil and natural gas. In conversation with Jamestown, Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler described nuclear power as essential to Turkey’s future development.

Turkey has substantial uranium reserves and has been discussing building nuclear power plants for nearly half a century. Attempts in 1960, 1968, 1974 and 1998 to launch a nuclear power program all ended in failure. Environmentalists have long campaigned against nuclear power, pointing to Turkey’s poor industrial safety record and the fact that almost all of the country lies in an earthquake zone.

After coming to power in November 2002, the AKP accelerated attempts to introduce a nuclear power program and identified the Black Sea province of Sinop as the most likely location for the first plant. The AKP originally planned to build a total of three nuclear power plants with a capacity of 5,000 Megawatts by 2012 at a total cost of around $7.5 billion. However, the original draft law was vetoed by the then-president Ahmet Necdet Sezer in May 2007 on the grounds that it imposed an excessive burden on the Treasury by making the Turkish state ultimately responsible for dismantling the plants at the end of their working lives (Radikal, May 25).

At the time of Sezer’s veto, firms from Canada, South Korea, France, and China had expressed an interest in the project, although it was widely assumed that the successful bidder would be a consortium comprising both local and foreign companies. Turkey’s two largest holding companies, Koc Holding and Sabanci Holding, have both publicly indicated that they would be prepared to bid for the project in partnership with a foreign company.

Under the law approved by the parliamentary committee on October 24, the Turkish Atomic Energy Institute (TAEK) will be responsible for publishing the technical specifications of the proposed nuclear power plants. TAEK President Okay Cakiroglu has already announced that the authorities will not consider any bids that foresee the utilization of outdated technology or a power plant with a capacity of less than 600 Megawatts. The general expectation is that the plant will have a capacity of at least 1,000 Megawatts.

Once the technical requirements have been published by TAEK, the state-owned Turkish Electricity Company (TESTAS) will put the project out to tender. TAEK will be responsible for the prequalification of bids, but TESTAS will select the successful candidate from among those who have prequalified. However, TESTAS’s choice will be subject to the approval of the Turkish Cabinet.

The revised law makes the owner of the plant, rather than the Turkish state, responsible for its eventual dismantlement at the end of its operating life. However, it also provides for the granting of a 15-year operating license, throughout the course of which the state guarantees that all electricity generated by the plant will be bought by TESTAS and then sold on to the private sector. The law also provides for the free allocation of state land for the building of the plant.

TAEK is expected to announce the technical specifications of the proposed power plant either later this year or in early 2008. The government currently foresees Turkey’s first nuclear power plant beginning operations in 2014 (Radikal, Milliyet, Hurriyet, Sabah, Dunya, Referans, October 25).