An anti-nuclear performance in Istanbul's Tünel Square. Photo: Greenpeace Akdeniz.
The ongoing effort to contain radiation leaks from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant, badly damaged in the devastating earthquake and tsunami, has countries from Germany to China suspending and rethinking their own nuclear-energy plans. In Turkey, though, officials say their 50-year quest to build the country's first nuclear power plant is still moving full steam ahead."Suspending plans to build nuclear plants is out of the question," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters ahead of a trip to Russia. Two Russian firms have been chosen by the Turkish government to build a power plant in the Mediterranean town of Akkuyu, in Mersin province. Turkey is also in talks with Japan's Tokyo Electric Power Co and Toshiba, which built several of Fukushima's reactors, about constructing a second plant in the Black Sea town of Sinop.
'No Investment Risk-Free,' Turkish PM Says
"There is no investment that is completely risk-free," Erdoğan said. "In that case, let's not bring gas canisters to our homes, let's not install natural gas, let's not stream crude oil through our country,'" The Guardian quoted him as saying.
Activists say, however, that the risks of nuclear energy are dramatically higher than those of other investments -- and that Turkey has not yet proved it can successfully manage risk at other, less technologically complex and less potentially catastrophic, types of industrial facilities.
Particularly concerning to nuclear opponents is the fact that Turkey, like Japan, is highly seismically active, with small earthquakes occurring almost every day across the country. A major quake in the Marmara region near Istanbul in 1999 killed nearly 17,000 people, and experts say Istanbul and other cities remain woefully unprepared for the next big tremor. The Akkuyu site is less than 30 kilometers from a fault line.
Greenpeace activists carry a banner reading, "Mersin doesn't want nuclear!" Photo: Greenpeace Akdeniz.
"It is a mistake to go nuclear after what has happened in Japan," Uygar Özesmi, Greenpeace's Mediterranean director, said this week. "In a quake-prone country like Turkey, you cannot launch a nuclear power industry."
Energy Minister Taner Yıldız has said Turkey will use third-generation technology that will make its plants safer than the first-generation Fukushima facility. But skeptics remain unconvinced.
"The Russian technology does not comply with Western standards, and Japanese companies have struggled to get licenses elsewhere. Both have design problems with their cooling systems," said Hayrettin Kılıç, a nuclear physicist who campaigns against atomic power.
Poor Safety Record
Turkey's own record with other types of industrial facilities does not inspire confidence either. Fatal accidents are common at its shipyards, as are deadly explosions and cave-ins at its mines. At least 17 workers were killed last month when twin explosions hit one industrial park in Ankara on the same day.
Though critics admit that Turkey is heavily dependent on energy imports and struggling to meet growing demand, they say development of the country's renewable energy potential could more than make up for not building nuclear power plants.
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