Rahmi Kopar holds a Ph.D. from the Center for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy, University of Dundee and an LLM from the University of Vienna
One of the oldest ambitions of modern Turkey – even older than joining the EU - has been acquiring nuclear energy. In pursuit of this dream, Turkey became a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1957. After all these years, Turkey is close to achieving its nuclear goal and the construction of its first-ever nuclear power plant will be completed within a couple of years. When that time comes, it should be no surprise that there will be harsh opposition against nuclear energy both from certain political parties and environmentalists. It will also be no surprise to witness that this opposition will mostly focus on historic nuclear disasters in Chernobyl and Fukushima. The lessons learned from these accidents have shown that it is imperative to implement stringent safety standards; otherwise, the general public can easily be frightened with nuclear doomsday scenarios. However, the realities of nuclear energy are far from what partisan opinions portray. To give a clearer picture, this article will provide an overview of the current use of nuclear in the EU and then discuss Turkey’s position.
According to the latest statistics provided by Eurostat and the International Energy Agency (IEA), 14 EU countries had operational nuclear reactors in 2017 when gross electricity generation from these nuclear power plants stood at nearly 830 terawatt-hours (TWh), equivalent to 25% of all electricity generated within the EU. While the EU’s nuclear electricity generation was around 795 TWh in 1990, it peaked at 1,008 TWh in 2004 and then fell back to its current level. As can be seen from these figures, nuclear energy has been used extensively for three decades in the EU with no major issues reported from these power plants within this timeframe. Even if its use decreases slightly, it is expected that nuclear will remain one of the most important components of the EU’s energy mix in the future.
France, as one of the biggest nuclear energy producers in the world, satisfies around 75% of its electricity needs from nuclear power. The U.K. follows with 18.7% of its total electricity supply in 2018 having been generated from its eight nuclear power plants. Several EU member states including, but not limited to Bulgaria, Finland, Sweden, and Poland have been constructing new reactors that will have an operating lifetime of 30 to 60 years with extensions. So, we will most likely see further usage of nuclear within the EU until the end of this century.
While this is the picture in the EU, Turkey as a newcomer to the nuclear scene plans to build three nuclear power plants, though there has been no significant progress on those proposed in Sinop and Igneada. However, if everything goes as planned, the first unit of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant in Mersin - built by Russia’s state atomic energy company Rosatom - will come online in 2023. It is anticipated that once fully operational, Akkuyu will cover between 7% and 9% of Turkey’s electricity needs depending on the increase in energy demand.
As an import-dependent state, Turkey must diversify its energy supply sources. If one looks at Turkey’s energy mix, the logical deduction would be to reduce the dependency on imported oil and gas and increase the share of other renewable and local energy sources, as well as nuclear energy. However, according to a 2018 survey conducted by Konda, a public opinion polling company, only 34% of the Turkish public consider that a nuclear power plant should be constructed to meet the country’s energy needs. In my opinion, this is mostly down to a lack of information and an abundance of misinformation regarding nuclear energy. There is no doubt that this adverse public opinion will be further heard once the commencement of operations approaches.
With the establishment of the new nuclear regulatory authority in 2018, Turkey now has a world-class independent regulator, which will have full authority to designate nuclear safety and security. However, on paper, this is insignificant unless there is a due implementation of duties. One of the main principles of being an effective and efficient nuclear regulatory authority is transparency and in ensuring stakeholder involvement throughout the whole process. It is important to bolster public confidence in the authority to achieve effective regulation, and this can only be done via systematic briefings and information sharing.
There are only three more years before nuclear energy becomes the main topic of opposition in Turkey. Therefore, a holistic and simple communication strategy must be gradually implemented. Both the public leg - the Nuclear Regulatory Authority, and the private leg - Akkuyu Nuclear JSC, must be proactive in informing the public about nuclear energy and its pros. Given the considerable high importance of nuclear energy for Turkey, it would be advisable to get the general public on board so Turkey’s tentative steps into nuclear energy can be made easier.
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.