Earthquake-prone Turkey embraces nuclear power

Two nuclear power plants will likely begin to be built in Turkey before the end of the year, reports Der Spiegel. One of them will be situated inland in the south, and the second will likely sit on a peninsula jutting into the Black Sea. They are expected to enter operation by 2015 to defray the country’s energy import bills and to build a nascent nuclear fuel production industry

The first power plant site, in the town of Akkuyu, has had a long and colorful history as a potential location for a nuclear plant. An initial effort to get construction started was shot down in 2000. The reasons are many – one being the proximity of a seismic zone a few kilometers away. One year ago this month, an earthquake caused radioactive water to spill at a Japanese nuclear plant, leading to ongoing concern about what other invisible damage the quake may have caused.

The new nuclear reactors could cover one-tenth of Turkey’s projected energy needs over the next two decades. However, some energy experts argue that Turkey should first implement rudimentary improvements to its electric grid, which leaks up to a quarter of the power it transmits. “There is a huge amount of energy waste. Turkey can cut its electricity needs by 50 percent if it uses more up-to-date energy efficient technology and so help keep down carbon emissions,” Tanay Sýdký Uyar, Vice President of the World Wind Energy Association, is quoted as saying.

As energy prices tick upwards, Turkey’s renewed interest in nuclear power may be an example of what happens in countries that lack a renewable-energy sector. Though the country is considered to have great wind-energy potential, a lack of investments or government support for renewable projects forestalls their development. However, a wind farm currently being built is expected to have a capacity of 135 megawatts and to be completed in 2009.

Currently, Turkey generates half of its power from natural gas, with the remainder split between coal and hydropower. Adding nuclear into the mix certainly has its appeal – not least because 90 percent of its natural gas arrives by pipeline from Russia and Iran, two countries known for their capricious energy policies. The degree of its dependence on these two countries is not trivial: to deal with a temporary projected shortfall, Turkey decided this year to temporarily connect an isolated section of its grid near the border to Iran’s grid, saving Turkey’s home-brewed electricity for the rest of the country. According to some estimates, Turkey may face power shortfalls next year.

Weirdly, Turkey is also about to sell 200 megawatts of electricity to Greece this month. Perhaps this is all practice for what certain politicians hope will transform Turkey into a future electricity corridor, where its electric lines are interconnected with several of its neighbors to the south.