The bids for the construction project will be accepted until 2 p.m. today, with the sealed envelopes to be opened half an hour later. The construction of nuclear plants in Turkey has hit several roadblocks along the way, and tenders to procure bids had been postponed four times. Prompted by soaring energy prices, government officials declared that they aim to conclude tenders for the construction and operation of nuclear power plants in the districts of Akkuyu and İnceburun by the end of 2008. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed on Monday that there were no plans to postpone the tender to build and operate Turkey's first nuclear power plant.
Energy and Natural Resources Minister Hilmi Güler last month had stated, "There will be no postponement in nuclear energy bids, and all energy privatizations will be held on the previously announced dates."
Despite debates over security, Turkey seems to have committed itself this time to moving ahead with the tender. The government rejected the requests of four interested companies for a six-month extension to prepare their bids due to problems in financing the project. Turkey is aiming to ultimately increase the share of nuclear power plants in electricity generation to a minimum of 8 percent by 2020 and 20 percent by 2030.
The first nuclear power plant is planned to have a capacity of 3,000-5,000 megawatts. The Turkish Electricity Trading and Contracting Company (TETAŞ) will sign a contract with the lowest bidder to purchase the power generated by this nuclear plant for at least 15 years following the start of operations.
Turkey is second after China in the rate of increase in consumption of natural gas and electricity, and the government is desperately looking at alternative energy sources to meet the increasing demand and avoid shortages. Turkey’s electricity consumption is increasing around 8 percent a year, in distinct contrast to consumption in Europe, which is rising at the very slow pace of around 1 percent per year. According to Energy and Natural Resources Ministry reports, Turkey needs to make a $70 billion investment in energy production and distribution networks by 2020 to meet its increasing demand. Net energy imports in 2008 are expected to reach $46-47 billion.
The construction of a nuclear plant stirred controversy in Turkey, with environmental organizations asking the government to abandon its plans on one side and business groups pressing for the government to move ahead in order to reduce energy bills on the other. Professor Beril Tuğrul from the Institute for Nuclear Energy at İstanbul Technical University supports building nuclear plants for energy purposes. Speaking to Today’s Zaman, she said nuclear energy will secure Turkey’s future energy needs and prevent fluctuations in supply. She emphasized that Turkey needs to diversify its energy resources. “The US has over 100 nuclear power plants, while France has more than 50,” she noted, adding, “What is important is to employ the latest technology available today, accompanied by the highest level of safety.”
At the beginning of this month, the Turkish Atomic Energy Agency (TAEK) drafted a set of new safety regulations for the construction and operation of nuclear power plants to ensure the highest level of safety at such facilities. The regulations aim to ensure that the winning bidder in today’s tender and in all future tenders for the construction of nuclear power plants will provide this level of safety. The company that wins the bid must be able to minimize the potential for nuclear accidents to the lowest level possible and be prepared to take measures to contain radiation contamination in the event of an accident at the facility. The regulations will also require frequent inspections of nuclear facilities and call for tough sanctions when safety conditions are found to be inadequate. The regulations stipulate that any company must receive permission from TAEK beforehand to be able to construct and operate a nuclear facility. TAEK will issue a license to firms that apply to construct such facilities only after determining that these companies meet all the requirements to operate in this field. Companies will be strictly prohibited from transferring or selling such licenses. If a company is found to be lacking in any of the safety and security criteria, its license will be canceled and sanctions will be imposed.
Yet others are not so convinced that nuclear power is the right choice, citing safety concerns and the high risk of accidents. Musa Çeçen, head of the Union for Electrical Engineers (EMO), is among those who have criticized the planned nuclear plants. “There are a lot of problems with nuclear plants, such as what to do with nuclear waste or how to adequately build cooling systems to reduce harmful effects to the environment,” he noted.
In a phone interview with Today’s Zaman, Çeçen emphasized that Turkey needs to focus on energy efficiency and conservation rather than building nuclear power plants. “Nuclear plants will start operations in 2020 at the soonest, and they will not solve Turkey’s energy shortage,” he added.
Atomic Energy Of Canada Limited (Canada), Itochu Corporation (Japan), Vinci Construction Grand Projects (France), Suez Tractebel (France-Belgium), Atomstroyexport (Russia), KEPCO (South Korea-Turkey), China Nuclear Power Components Co. (China), Unit Investment N.V. (Netherlands); Haci Ömer Sabancı Holding (Turkey), Alsim-Alarko Sanayi Tesisleri (Turkey), Hattat Holding (Turkey), RWE (Germany) and Ak Enerji (Turkey) are the 13 companies that have received specifications for the tender so far.
Turkey currently produces half of its electricity from natural gas power plants. One-fourth is being generated from coal plants, while hydroelectricity plants produce most of the remainder. Renewable energy resources, despite growing utilization, are still at negligible levels in terms of their contribution to total electricity production. The Turkish government is determined to equally distribute electricity generation between five main resources: natural gas, coal, water, renewables and nuclear.
Nuclear power: a dream for the past 50 years
The Turkish government first attempted to establish a nuclear power plant in the 1960s as part of the Second Five-Year Development Plan. The first nuclear power plant was planned to start operations in 1977, with 400 megawatts of capacity. Because of the difficulties in selecting a location and other problems, the project was cancelled. In 1972, the Nuclear Power Plant Agency was established under the Turkish Electricity Board (TEK).
Meanwhile, the Akkuyu district of Mersin province, the İnceburun district of Sinop province and the İğneada district of Kırklareli were decided upon as the most feasible locations, after considering the population density, availability of water supplies for cooling and water transport infrastructure.
In 1983, then-Prime Minister Turgut Özal started the process for construction of the first nuclear power plant in Akkuyu, but this attempt failed after construction firms rejected the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model. The first tender was held in 1997 for the construction of a power plant in Akkuyu. NPI (Germany-France), Westinghouse (USA-Japan) and Candu (Canada-Japan) requested specifications for the tender, which was postponed eight times. On July 25, 2000, then-Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit cancelled the tender, saying that the nuclear power plant would not be cost efficient.
During the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) era, nuclear energy has once again gained priority. In March 2008, the tender date was announced to be Sept. 24. To decrease Turkey’s energy dependence and to diversify energy sources, the Turkish government is planning two more nuclear plants with a combined 4,500 megawatt capacity.