Turkey’s nuclear tender falls flat

Monday, September 29, 2008

Turkey suffered a setback in its efforts to reduce a costly dependence on energy imports on Wednesday, receiving just one bid in a tender to build the country’s first nuclear power plant.

The 4,000-megawatt plant near Mersin on the Mediterranean coast is intended to be the first of three, aimed at averting power shortages and lessening reliance on natural gas imports from Russia and Iran.

“Nuclear is a very good option for Turkey, said Luis Echávarri, director-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development nuclear energy agency, adding that the first venture into the sector would help to build a domestic industry. However, the lacklustre response to a project that had initially attracted widespread interest from foreign and domestic groups is an embarrassment that will raise doubts over Turkey’s ambition to rush the first plant into operation by 2015.

The only proposal submitted by Wednesday’s deadline came from a consortium led by Russia’s Atomstroyexport and Inter Rao, together with Turkey’s Park Teknik Group.

Yasar Cakmak, the chairman of the tender commission, said five other responses were simply “thank you letters” declining to bid.

The government had stuck to the deadline despite requests from several companies for more time to prepare. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, reiterated on Monday there would be no extension despite the turbulence in global markets.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development party is keen to show progress with its economic programme after a year of political distractions. It also needs to demonstrate that turmoil in global markets and political tensions at home will not damage Turkey’s ability to attract foreign investors.

However, this haste appears to have backfired. The tender failed to attract interest from companies such as US-based Westinghouse or France’s Areva, seen as the reference for the industry. Other groups bought the tender documents but decided not to bid.

“In nuclear terms, 2015 is tomorrow,” one expert on the sector said. “When suppliers ask you for more time, you listen.”

An analyst in Istanbul said the tender might now be suspended or cancelled, since without a genuine competition, anti-nuclear campaigners would find it easier to take court action.

The authorities said the process would continue with the tender commission deciding whether to refer the bid to Turkey’s Atomic Energy Board.

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