‘Surge in costs may propel Russians to drop Akkuyu nuclear power plant’

Sunday, June 24, 2012

It is not an easy game, it never has been. Turkey now seems to be closer to realizing its bid for its first nuclear power plant than ever before.

Some, however, argue the country may find itself far from this dream due to some unanticipated problems that may occur behind closed doors. But isn’t there a remedy to erase all lingering doubts about the planned plant?

A consortium led by state-controlled Russian builder Atomstroyexport is expected to construct the plant in Akkuyu, paying the whole cost of construction for the nuclear plant, which is estimated to be around $20 billion. The firm will be able to transfer up to 49 percent of its shares to another firm. The Turkish government sees the project as central to reducing dependency on energy imports and maintaining a pro-nuclear energy stance. The government has been accelerating its efforts to proceed with the Akkuyu project despite fears that nuclear power plants would pose grave risks to the country, which is crisscrossed by numerous fault lines. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) was the latest to raise this issue, and they filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court, demanding the annulment of a law that allows the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear plant. The court, however, has rejected the appeal.

İstanbul-based think tank Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) has prepared a report titled “The Turkish Model for Transition to Nuclear Power.” Underlining growing concerns over nuclear energy security, the report indicates that nuclear power plants which are safer than current reactors and also economically competitive with alternative energy technologies are needed. One of the current advanced reactors is called Generation III (and 3+) as stated in the report. This is the type of plant planned for Turkey. The agreement with the Russian consortium foresees the construction of four 1,200 MWe Water Cooled Water Moderated Reactor (VVER) units -- or water-cooled, Water-Water Energetic -- at the Akkuyu site. Greenpeace has objected to the project, arguing it lacked safety requirements. The group pointed out that the Bulgarian government scrapped its plans to build a second nuclear power plant using a very similar reactor.

The type of reactor Turkey has chosen for its first nuclear power plant is said to be very efficient and safe, the report notes. “However, it should be emphasized that there are no VVER-1200 in operation. They only exist on paper so far. Hence, there is as of yet no operating experience that can be relied on. New and unexpected problems can emerge in the course of the construction and/or operation due to unexpected plant defects or human error or unforeseen physical or chemical processes,” the report warns.

Making further calculations on the issue, EDAM energy analyst Hasan Saygın says the Russian side can be expected to request its Turkish counterparts to revise the price. The planned plant has no similar on the face of the earth and carries some risks along with it. “The Russians originally demanded 21.16 US cents per kWh. This was eventually decided as 12.35 US cents. This number could increase to as high as 22 or 24 US cents per kWh. This is basically due to technical difficulties in the Mediterranean environment.”

The reactor needs to pump millions of tons of water to cool itself. Of the four reactors to be constructed in Akkuyu, one will work only to produce the energy to cool the other three. This means the amount of electricity power to be generated will be cut by one-fourth. Russians can continue operating the plant only if they compensate for this loss. This requires the price of electrical power per kWh to be no less than 22 US cents. One further speculation Saygın puts forward is that the Russians may be prompted to cancel the contract due to political tensions ignited by developments such as the construction of a NATO early warning radar system in Malatya and ongoing problems with the Syrian government. “The project can only continue if the Turkish side concedes to accept the revised prices,” he argues.

Some observers say it would be too naive to expect the Russian side to drop the Akkuyu project, arguing that they have put a lot of money into it. Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected in Turkey in the coming months. He may discuss and reach a final decision on the fate of Akkuyu with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

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