Devastating Earthquake in Eastern Turkey Fails to Shake Ankara's Nuclear Plans

© Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH)

Devastating news from eastern Turkey has riveted the country this week -- more than 500 killed and thousands left homeless by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Van province. Controversies over aid distribution and poor building practices only deepened the tragedy. The outpouring of support and a handful of dramatic rescues provided a few bright spots, as did a report that Turkey would likely cancel its much-criticized nuclear plans in the wake of the disaster. For opponents of Turkey's two planned reactors, the latter news sounded too good to be true -- and it appears that it was.

The earthquake in Van left investors in Korea worried that Turkey would call off its plans to build a nuclear power plant in the Black Sea province of Sinop, a project for which Korean firms hoped to win the construction bid, news agency dongA reported Tuesday. "The nuclear plant deal with Turkey has become very tough," it quoted an anonymous source from the Korean nuclear-power industry as saying, and added, without attribution, that the industry "expects the project to be scrapped in the wake of Sunday's powerful earthquake."

Reactor Planned For Seismically Active Area
Though the Sinop area is not known to be earthquake-prone, the location for Turkey's other planned reactor, the Mediterranean town of Akkuyu, is very seismically active. Despite the risk, Turkey remained firm in its nuclear ambitions after the Fukushima meltdown in Japan, with its Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan saying: "Suspending plans to build nuclear plants is out of the question."

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız sounded a similar note of confidence following the Van earthquake, telling journalists on Thursday that the Akkuyu plant would be "the strongest building in the country."

"We will invest some $20 billion there. It will become an important part of the overall energy system," Yıldız said, dismissing concerns about risks. "We will not let it happen. No need to worry about it."

Construction In Turkey Rife With Problems
Turkey's building record does not inspire confidence. Nearly a third of all buildings in certain Istanbul districts are at risk in the event of an earthquake, and the city could see 20,000 buildings collapse and 10 times that many damaged, according to various estimates. Experts warned following the Van quake that "thousands of building permits obtained in the second half of 2010 shortly before new legislation regarding quality control and inspection in buildings went into force might hinder Turkey’s efforts to improve its earthquake preparedness," according to the newspaper Today's Zaman.

The paper also reported experts' concerns that strengthened construction standards are unlikely to protect the country without a change in public awareness "because homeowners and building contractors try to cut costs by economizing on the quality of materials and avoiding inspections on building standards whenever possible." If the Van earthquake helps contribute to that shift, it would be the real silver lining to a terrible tragedy.

More On Earthquakes And Nuclear Power
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Nuclear Reactors in Earthquake Zones in the U.S. [Map]
Japan Nuclear Disaster Triggers Political Frenzy in Germany
Earthquake-Prone Chile Won't Give Up Nuclear Plans Yet
Japan Warned Three Years Ago About Nuclear Plants' Earthquake Vulnerability: Wikileaks

Tags: Buildings | Construction | Natural Disasters | Nuclear Power | Turkey