Nuclear safety on Erdoğan’s agenda during Russia visit

Nuclear safety on Erdoğan’s agenda during Russia visit

Erdoğan, accompanied by Yıldız, departed for Russia on Tuesday for a visit that is expected to focus on energy ties.

March 16, 2011, Wednesday/ 17:24:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN WITH WIRES

Turkey reiterated that it will stick to its plans to build nuclear power plants despite growing fears about atomic safety in the aftermath of a crisis in tsunami-hit Japan, but it now plans to ask Russia to increase safety precautions at a power plant Russia will build on the Mediterranean coast.

“The safety of the nuclear power plant will be discussed during Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit to Russia,” Energy Minister Taner Yıldız told the Anatolia news agency on Tuesday. In another interview, Yıldız said, “The increasing of the design criteria against earthquakes is something we will discuss with the Russians.”

Erdoğan, accompanied by Yıldız, departed for Russia on Tuesday for a visit that is expected to focus on energy ties. Russia's Rosatom Corp. and Atomstroyexport ZAO have been picked by the Turkish government to build Turkey's first nuclear power plant in the Mediterranean town of Akkuyu. Turkish energy officials have also been in talks with Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) and Toshiba, which built several of Fukushima's reactors, on building a nuclear power plant on the Black Sea coast. The talks were intended to be completed by the end of March.

Following damage from Friday's earthquake and tsunami, two reactors exploded on Tuesday at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, 240 kilometers north of Tokyo, after days of frantic efforts to cool them. The crisis in Japan led to calls in Turkey to revise nuclear plans, under which two or three nuclear power plants will be operational in the coming decades. Turkey is crisscrossed by geological fault lines, and small earthquakes are a near daily occurrence. In 1999, two tremors killed more than 20,000 people.

Yıldız said the plant to be built by the Russians is meant to withstand a magnitude 8 earthquake and that could be increased if necessary. “We can't ignore what is happening at the Japanese nuclear plant,” Yıldız said in the interview with the Bloomberg news agency.

But although Yıldız said there were lessons to be learned from the earthquake in Japan, he insisted that no revision in plans to build nuclear plants is being considered. “Why can’t we have a nuclear power plant in Turkey?” Yıldız asked in the interview with Anatolia. He emphasized that the Fukushima plant was built decades ago by using the older, first-generation technology, while Turkey plans to use third-generation reactors -- which are much safer -- in both planned power plants.

Speaking before departing for Russia, Prime Minister Erdoğan dismissed prospects for a revision in Turkey’s nuclear plants in even stronger terms. “Suspending plans to build nuclear plants is out of the question,” Erdoğan told reporters, emphasizing that the nuclear project will be implemented as planned. “There is no investment that is completely risk-free,” he said.

Turkey wants to launch an atomic power industry to diversify its energy mix and boost supply to keep up with soaring demand for electricity amid rapid economic growth. It targets 20 percent of electricity from nuclear power by 2030.

“I see comments in the press asking the government if our determination on nuclear plants still continues. Of course it does,” he said. Earlier, he had said: “The earthquake in Japan will not affect our plans to build nuclear power plants. There are certainly lessons to be learned from this, and our work and discussions on that continue.”

Yıldız also said the government would certainly avoid any measure that would put the safety of its nationals at risk and criticized those who press the government to revise its nuclear plans saying the risk of tsunami is much different in the Mediterranean than it is in the Pacific Ocean. “The circumstances are very different,” he said.

The energy minister’s remarks came as hydrogen explosions at a tsunami-stricken Japanese facility spread jitters about atomic energy safety in Europe. The German government on Monday temporarily halted plans to extend the life of its nuclear power plants, while neighboring Switzerland suspended its plans to build and replace nuclear plants.

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