Is the Russian-Led Consortium Trying to Overcharge Turkey for Its First Nuclear Power Plant?

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 16

Turkey is continuing to debate the construction of its first nuclear power plant in Akkuyu, Mersin. After the tender was launched in March 2008, 13 foreign and local companies purchased documents. All but one, however, failed to submit an offer, because they did not have sufficient time to prepare the necessary documentation. The government did not respond to their call for extending the September 2008 deadline; and only one consortium, a joint venture of Russia’s state-run Atomstroyexport, Inter RAO, and the private Turkish company Park Teknik submitted a bid (EDM, October 10).

Although many within the energy sector called for the cancellation of the tender, the AKP government went ahead with the plans. The sole bidder submitted its offer to the Turkish government; and, upon technical evaluation, the Turkish Atomic Energy Agency (TAEK) concluded in December that the proposal met the necessary criteria.

On January 19 the Energy Ministry opened the sealed letter with the offer, which also included the price. This was the third and final stage of the tender process. Energy Minister Hilmi Guler announced that the consortium had offered a price of 21.16 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for the electricity it would sell to Turkey. In the coming days, the state-run Turkish Electricity Trading and Contracting Company (TETAS) will evaluate the proposal and present a report to the cabinet for final approval (Dogan Haber Ajansi, January 19).

Under the bid, the consortium would build “four units of the Russian VVER-1200 pressurized water reactors that generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity each.” The plant would produce around 4,800 megawatts of electricity per year. Since the Turkish government must commit itself to buying electricity from the company for 15 years, it would be paying $86.3 billion for 415.5 billion kWh during that period (Hurriyet Daily News, January 20).

Turkey is considering the construction of nuclear plants as a source of clean and cheap energy and as a means for reducing energy dependency. By 2020 it seeks to produce 8 percent of its electricity from nuclear plants and increase that amount to 20 percent by 2030 (, January 20).

The price of electricity is a crucial factor. Earlier, Turkish officials had said that they expected the consortium to make a reasonable offer. Some observers had predicted a price offer in the vicinity of 12 to 15 cents. Many observers found the price excessive, arguing that 21.16 cents per kWh was above market prices. Experts and representatives from the energy sector noted concerns about a price that was almost four times higher than the current rates in the Turkish market, which varied from 4 cents to 14 cents. Some described it as the world’s most expensive electricity generated at a nuclear plant, arguing that the world average was around 10 to 15 cents per kWh. Others noted that Turkey had cancelled another tender for the construction of a coal-fired power plant, because even the anticipated 14.7 per kWh had been found too expensive. Turkey also is investing extensively in natural gas power plants, which reportedly produce electricity for around 7 to 10 cents per kWh (Referans, January 20; Today’s Zaman, January 20).

The chairman of the Electricity Producers Association, however, cautioned that although the price was high, it was also important to remember that this tender model was a first in the world. Under this model, the private sector was assuming all the risks for such a large-scale investment, which might account for why the offer turned out so high. A board member of the Chamber of Electrical Engineers, however, said that since there was no competition, the chamber deemed the tender illegal and incompatible with Turkey’s national interests (ANKA, January 20).

The same day, the consortium submitted another letter with a revised price. Since the 21.16 cents was offered in September, the company said it wanted to adjust the price, reflecting changes in the world economy and energy costs (, January 19). Guler avoided commenting on the amount but said that there was no obstacle to renegotiating the price. TETAS, however, concluded that the rules regulating the tender prohibited submission of revised
, because a new price would in essence constitute a new offer. On a TV show the same night, Guler said that the revised letter had been rejected (Anadolu Ajansi, January 19).

The Turkish press speculated that in its report to the cabinet, TETAS would probably suggest rejecting the consortium’s offer (Vatan, January 21). Responding to questions on this subject, Guler told reporters that the tender process was proceeding well, and a cancellation was not on the agenda (Anadolu Ajansi, January 23).

The government is keen on building nuclear power plants to diversify Turkey’s energy sources, and plans for the construction of two more plants are also underway. For obvious reasons, environmentalist groups have opposed Turkey’s nuclear energy projects since the beginning. Even the representatives of the energy sector continue to question the government’s policy on nuclear energy, in particular its hasty approach. Moreover, as Turkey is seeking to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, which accounts for 35 percent of Turkey’s electricity production, it would be ironic to award the tender to a Russian company. The government’s disregard of the global financial crisis and insistence on proceeding with these costly projects is also a cause of concern (Today’s Zaman, January 20).

Guler continuously emphasizes that although Turkey is looking to increase its use of hydroelectric and renewable energy sources, it does not have the luxury to ignore nuclear energy. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether the government will be able to realize Turkey’s nuclear energy ambitions, which have been thwarted for decades. As things stand, most observers see little chance that the cabinet will approve the Russian offer for the Akkuyu plant. In the unlikely event that the cabinet does endorse the Russian offer, Turkey will most probably bargain to decrease the price before it signs the final agreement.

The government, however, might have learned some lessons from its handling of the project so far. Preparations are reportedly under way to streamline the nuclear energy policy. As a first step, it would push for revising the Nuclear Tender Law. Since the current law prevents opening a second tender, allowing flexibility on that score would be the first rule to change. Also, the current competition model, which discourages many possible contenders from participating, is likely to be amended. Instead of a free market model of private companies undertaking construction, a model based on greater public involvement is likely to be considered (, January 21).