Tatiana Sinitsyna Olive branch for Akkuyu power plant / SCO Shanghai Cooperation Organization

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Olive branch for Akkuyu power plant
07.12.2017 14:45 Tatiana Sinitsyna

The Russian state-owned corporation Rosatom has reached the stage of obtaining the final, hundredth license needed to start construction of the nuclear power plant Akkuyu (“White Well”) in Turkey. It will be the fifth SCO country after China, India, Iran and Belarus, to have a nuclear power plant built by Russian professionals according to Russian designs, which have been recognized as the world’s safest. Turkey will also become the first NATO country to welcome the Russian peaceful atom.

Kirill Komarov, first deputy CEO of Rosatom, says that they hope to finish this complicated, drawn-out affair in the first quarter of 2018. If, of course, everything goes as planned.

“As planned” has long been impossible, and the path of the project was far from a “silk road.” The agreement on construction of four 1,200 MW generating units on the seashore in the Turkish province of Mersin was signed by Moscow and Ankara back in May 2010, and power generation could have already started by now. However, the environmental ministry stubbornly opposed the project, and environmentalists staged active protests. This is understandable: the province has olive groves, and the main argument of the protesters was that the state law on olive groves prohibited construction of such facilities near them.

The Akkuyu project did not meet the requirements, and Rosatom had to adjust certain provisions and have them approved again. Besides, the contemplated construction site was situated close to the sea, which again took a lot of talks and searching for an acceptable solution, because nuclear power plants have to be built near water. Eventually, the difficult compromise between the country’s power needs and olive groves was found, and builders got down to work.

Some time later, however, a new obstacle emerged, and it was a more serious, political one: the Turkish Air Force downed a Russian bomber flying in the Syrian sky, close to the Turkish border… Relations between Moscow and Ankara escalated to a critical point. There could be no talk about a power plant! Russia refused to forgive, despite President Erdogan’s apologies, and this, of course, resulted in the Akkuyu project being put on hold.

Yet Russian anger has short roots, a proverb goes. The decision to unfreeze the Akkuyu Nuclear project on the southern shore of Turkey was made after a conciliatory meeting of Recep Erdogan and Vladimir Putin. Both politicians agreed that in the current geopolitical context it was better for the two countries to be allies.

Construction of the first Turkish nuclear power plant will be financed with Russian money, a $20 billion loan provided for 30 years. Turkish companies are expected to take part in project implementation. According to the construction schedule, the first steam turbine unit will be assembled in 2021. The NPP will have four power units with VVER reactors with a capacity of 1200 MW, which will be commissioned one after another.

The inter-governmental agreement allows foreign investors to acquire a stake in the company of up to 49%. Akkuyu Nuclear in Turkey is the world’s first NPP project implemented under the BOO (build-own-operate) model.

Upon the plant’s inauguration, Turkish professionals will be engaged to operate it through its entire life cycle. After completing education and training at Rosatom’s technology centers, they will become part of Akkuyu’s operational team.

It should be noted that Turkey does not carry any financial risks in the project, unlike Russia. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, another proverb goes. Bulgaria, for example, rejected the Belene NPP project in the past under the pressure from the European Union, but today is increasingly often revisiting the idea. That’s quite a gain for Russian nuclear experts after all the humiliation they had to suffer. At the time, they were rudely driven away from the already prepared construction site, Chernobyl thrusted in their faces…

In the last 16 years, Russian nuclear power plants have not registered a single serious breach of safety classified above level 1 on the International Nuclear Events Scale (INES). Engineering solutions of the Akkuyu NPP meet all contemporary requirements of the global nuclear community, set out in safety standards of the IAEA, International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group and EUR requirements. VVER reactors, which are used both in Russia and abroad, are self-protected, with embedded safety barriers and numerous backups.

Russian nuclear power plants have earned a certain reputation in the world, their safety confirmed by regular inspections of both independent Russian bodies (the Russian Federal Service for Environmental, Technological, and Nuclear Supervision), and international organizations (the World Association of Nuclear Operators, etc).

 …So Turkey has nothing to worry about: the Akkuyu power plant will agree very nicely with its olive groves, while the country will get the new joules, so needed for its development.

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