The Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters as well as the current stalemate in the Iranian nuclear crisis are typical examples of nuclear energy and nuclear armament issues. The hypocritical discussion concerning this technology, which is a source of energy as well as armament, has been going on for 70 years. The nuclear energy issue has not been detached from nuclear armament. Germany and Japan did not consider this technology in the 1950s as a source of energy alone; likewise, while they are all arguing that they are innocent, India, Brazil and Iran, which is not exactly suffering from a lack of energy sources, do not view it as solely a source of energy. And Turkey has also become part of this discussion. Respected columnists like Metin Münir and Şahin Alpay have noted that Turkey’s nuclear energy venture is not a good idea, but these columns have not changed anything. And besides, the political parties do not hold different views about the nuclear issue because there is widespread confusion with regard to this matter; it is clear that the technology aspect of the nuclear matter is more visible and determinative. The matter is not thoroughly discussed, and decisions are often made with respect to the Iranian issue. The main argument is based on the belief that Turkey should not lag behind Iran in nuclear technology. That Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not fair cannot be disputed; his language that questions the double standards of the world nuclear order as well as his appeal to Eastern friends rather than Western states in the matter of technology transfer raises questions and doubts. In the nuclear issue, everything becomes intricate and complicated. Let me first discuss the nuclear issue in Turkey, which is not about an energy shortage, and then review the history of the world nuclear order and its contradictions. And I finally I would like to emphasize why Turkey should stay away from nuclear technology.
Nuclear energy is not economical
The arguments of the anti-nuclear movement that suggest that nuclear energy is dangerous and expensive have become widespread and popular in the Western democracies. France, the stronghold of the nuclear lobby in Europe, is now discussing the usefulness of nuclear energy. If Chernobyl is the turning point of this technology, Fukushima has become the starting point of decision making. The conservative and liberal coalition government has shut down eight plants in Germany and decided to close all plants by 2023 despite the huge bill associated with this action. Belgium, Switzerland and Japan will abandon this technology in the years to come. In fact, this process started a while ago; nuclear energy has become less popular since the late 1990s. Despite extensive support by the American government, energy companies have not constructed additional nuclear plants in the US since 1973; instead of nuclear energy, they have moved to wind and solar energy in addition to conventional energy sources. These companies do this not because they consider environmental degradation, but because this sector is risky and expensive. As a result, investing in nuclear energy becomes irrational for these companies. The nuclear plants currently under construction are in such countries as Russia, China and India. It would not be wrong to say that the decisions to construct plants in these countries could be attributed to strategic considerations. In addition, politicians may be tempted to make risky decisions because of a lack of democracy. The data and analyses show that the nuclear energy sector is declining and will be over within decades. In other words, Turkey is investing in a sector that is coming to a dead end -- the nuclear energy sector.
Despite all these facts, Erdoğan argued that nuclear energy is no longer dangerous to human life and that this type of energy is not threatening anymore (Star daily, May 30, 2012). However, he must see that Germany and Japan, which have the most advanced nuclear technology, are shutting down their nuclear plants due to the risks involved. Considering that the decision to abandon nuclear technology entails huge losses, it could be said that these countries have deliberated this matter extensively. In other words, they have taken the risks I referred to above just because of the dangers involved in nuclear energy. In short, it is not about energy; instead, it is all about nuclear technology and nuclear armament. Without delving into this matter, let us review the history of this policy that Turkey has been pursuing as a regional power since the 1950s.
‘Nuclear armament club’
The atomic bomb that ended World War II was an important asset for the US, but it also became evident that the proliferation of this weapon was a major source of threat. The proliferation of this technology and the attempts to prevent the spread of these weapons could be compared to a lengthy novel. Russia tested its first atomic bomb because of the perceived American threat; later, France, Britain and China joined the club of nuclear powers. The defeated powers, Germany and Japan, as well as India, Pakistan, Brazil, South Africa and Iran (well before the Islamic revolution), have also attempted to acquire nuclear weapons. Germany, one of the pioneers of nuclear technology, established the Federal Ministry of Atomic Issues, which is now known as the Federal Ministry of Education and Research; Germany first imported this technology from the US. German researchers who returned home after the war laid the foundations of not only nuclear energy projects but also uranium enrichment technology. In a center located in Almelo, Holland, the technology that Pakistan and Iran currently use was developed. Americans -- who are aware that the energy and armament aspects of nuclear technology are like two sides of one coin -- have attempted to control this technology through international conventions since the 1950s. The Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons has served as the starting point of the current nuclear club.
This treaty is nothing more than the reflection of the system created by the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, which is far from being just and fair with regard to nuclear armament. Africa and Latin America are not represented in the permanent membership scheme of the Security Council; likewise, 2 billion people living in India and Southeast Asian countries are not properly represented. Europe, on the other hand, is represented by three countries in this international institution. (The total population of these countries is not even one-quarter of the population of India). The eagerness of these five permanent members in the council to regard nuclear armament as an exclusive right that they can maintain has met with strong reactions from the beginning. Countries like India did not ratify the treaty, whereas Germany attempted to dilute the process by attending the negotiations. This is the primary reason for the vagueness of the treaty and its uselessness in the talks with Iran. Under Article IV, research in every nuclear-related field is allowed; in addition, the control mechanism defined in the treaty is not effective because the member states are allowed to limit the time, the scope and the place of the inspections. For this reason, the states in the nuclear club that have advanced nuclear technology attempt to interpret these conventions in consideration of their priorities. India and Israel, still not members in the club, are seeking opportunities for joining this exclusive gathering. The presence of Pakistan in the backyard of the club as a country also eager for admission is a source of disturbance for the members, but they remain silent because of India’s ambitions. Some countries, including Japan, South Korea, Germany and Canada, use this technology to generate energy, whereas some others, including North Korea and Iran, rely on this technology for evil purposes. We are still unable to know where Turkey will be ranked or whether it will be a good or an evil actor in this setting. We still do not know if the lack of any Western company in the Akkuyu nuclear plant tender bid can be linked to economic reasons. But there is no doubt that Russia’s involvement in the process and participation in the bid bears mostly political rather than investment motives. It is interesting that Turkey devises a project with Russia considering that it is completely dependent on it in the energy sector. Didn’t the promoters of nuclear energy argue that this technology would alleviate dependency?
Where does Turkey stand?
Turkey stands between two options, one good and the other evil, in respect to the nuclear technology issue in its Middle East politics. In other words, it could choose between either becoming a country that fights for a nuclear-free Middle East and world or a country that has this technology and promotes its use for so- called “peaceful” purposes. Iran and Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons does not make selection of any alternative easier; however, I believe that reliance on nuclear energy will be effectively the end of Turkey’s zero-problem policy. After Fukushima, Turkey can no longer be convincing when it says that it wants transfer of nuclear technology for energy purposes only. For this reason, it would not be wrong if the world perceives Turkey’s initiatives to acquire nuclear technology as some sort of justification for Iranian ambitions and a major source of nuclear escalation in the Middle East. Even though I perfectly understand the criticism of those who hold that the initiatives of the Western countries, which have nuclear arsenals, to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons are hypocritical and devoid of any sort of legitimacy, Turkey’s nuclear policy and struggle against nuclear armament is a different matter. Turkey should not move to the side of Iran in the nuclear arms matter because Iran is not in pursuit of a fair and just world order; instead, it is seeking to become a nuclear and regional power. Turkey should also not be influenced by the policies of North Korea and the South African apartheid regime, which were motivated by a strong desire for greater power, or of Israel, which failed to make peace. The nuclear issue will be resolved in Iran by the people’s reliance on democracy and freedom, whereas it will be settled in Israel by the attainment of peace with regard to the Palestine issue. The escalation of nuclear armament is a process that generates problems rather than solutions.
A closer look at the Israeli and Iranian examples tells us that these two countries are actually the main reason for disarmament. By transferring technology from Germany, South Africa developed nuclear arms; after the collapse of the apartheid regime, these arms were destroyed. This is a good development for Iran, which could take it as an example, and it is also promising for the Middle East that Germany and Japan are abandoning this technology. A nuclear-free Middle East would serve the interests of the region and Turkey. Some circles might feel stronger about the presence of nuclear technology in Turkey, but this power would be acquired at the expense of redefining Turkey as an evil country. Nuclear energy is a dead end for future policies; in addition, its efficiency as a weapon is doubtful. For this reason, Turkey should mobilize its resources to build a nuclear-free Middle East and world and refrain from making investments in such risky, evil and expensive projects. It should be noted that an invasion of Anatolia is a fairly stupid decision in terms of international policies; besides, an economically developed Turkey that is a member of NATO and the EU will be stronger and more effective in international relations.
Perception, image and credibility are great assets that cannot be ignored in international politics. Carrying out scientific research in the field of nuclear technology is a more productive option that would cost only some hundreds of millions of dollars. Turkey may have access and reach major sources of nuclear technologies by cooperating with the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France, or the Max-Planck-Institut für Kernphysik (MPIK) in Heidelberg, Germany. By such cooperation, Turkey may even gain access to the infrastructure of nuclear medicine. Do not think that these institutions, which remain friendly with Russia, will keep their doors closed to Turkey. There is no need for investments of large sums of money in outdated technologies, and there is also no need to pose any risk by installing nuclear plants in Sinop and Akkuyu, considering that these areas are quake zones. I hope that this issue is settled through extensive deliberations that will include the participation of the people in the process rather than by an exclusive team of bureaucrats.
*Ali Yurttagül is a political advisor for the Greens in the European Parliament.