While nuclear power has been an agenda item for Turkey since the 1970s, the first significant steps could only be taken four years ago when the Turkish government signed an inter-governmental agreement ("IGA") with the Russian Federation for the construction of a nuclear power plant ("NPP") in the Mediterranean costal region Akkuyu, Mersin to be almost immediately followed by a second NPP project in Sinop, the Black Sea coast of Turkey. Considering the increasing demand for electricity and dependence on oil and gas imports, the government believes that it is now time, more than ever, that Turkey moves for a busy nuclear energy implementation program diversifying its energy sources with the nuclear plants generating 5% of the country's electricity within the next 10 years despite the heating debates.
The steps taken for the Akkuyu NPP paved the way for the next nuclear power project. The government disclosed that it agreed on the terms of an IGA with the Japanese government in the first half of 2013 for the quarter-billion Sinop NPP which will be built by a joint venture consortium of Japanese Mitsubishi
Heavy Industries and French Areva. French electric utility company GDF Suez will be the plant operator. The Minister of Energy announced it is intended that Turkish Electricity Generation Corporation (EÜAŞ) will have a shareholding percentage of around 35 in the project company. Despite the fact that it was not the method followed for the Akkuyu NPP but was the case for other similar projects, the next step for the Sinop NPP would be to have a host government agreement between the Turkish government and the relevant project company to be established for the purposes of Sinop NPP to govern the details of implementation of the project. The Sinop NPP is expected to commence power generation in 2023 coinciding with the 100th year of the Turkish Republic. This collaboration with Japanese parties is also regarded as indicative of Turkey's recently enhanced strategic relationship with Japan: the Sinop NPP will be Japan's first overseas nuclear technology and the second major challenge in Turkey following the Marmaray tunnel, operative as of October 2013, also built by a Japanese consortium to connect Istanbul's European and Asian coasts.
The government is still maintaining its firm stance and is confident that NPPs will make a significant contribution to the Turkish economy in the upcoming decade; however, there has been an undeniable public reaction against the Akkuyu and Sinop NPPs right from their inception. The protests against both plants focus on environmental concerns, the untested reactor types to be used and the scale of a possible nuclear disaster in Turkey. The fitness of Turkey, as one of the most seismically active regions in the world, to host such sophisticated structures is also questioned by the anti-nuclear groups in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.
To trigger more controversy, the parliament made two failed attempts to exempt the NPPs from the requirement of preparing an environmental impact assessment (ÇED) report, one of the environment related key re-requisites for construction and operation. The parliament re-worded the specific exemption provision of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulation twice to have the Akkuyu NPP be free of the obligation in this regard. Both attempts were, however, halted by the Council of State.
The NPP projects have also been facing political opposition mounted against the specifically engineered unique regulatory regime created through the IGAs. The opposition party challenged the law approving the ratification of the Akkuyu IGA for the Akkuyu NPP before the Constitutional Court. The essence of the claim was that the Akkuyu IGA gave leeway to circumvent national regulations such as the mandatory competitive tender process that must have been otherwise followed and to shield the whole process from judicial review. This challenge, however, was left unsupported by the Constitutional Court responding in November 2013 that an assessment of the IGA's content including the regulatory regime created thereunder would be beyond the court's authorities.
The Japanese side, on the other hand, is also busy with its own public debates on the Sinop NPP. The anti-nuclear groups are specifically concerned about the Agreement for Co-Operation in the Use of Nuclear Energy for Peaceful Purposes between Turkey and Japan ("Agreement for Peaceful Purposes"). Subject to the Presidential act and issuance of the decree by the Council of Ministers for promulgating the law deeming the Agreement for Peaceful Purposes proper for ratification, entered into force upon its announcement in the Official Gazette, as of 20 January 2014. It is alleged that the clause in the agreement allowing Turkey to export Japan's spent fuel re-processing technologies raised questions about any potential efforts in proliferation of nuclear weapons. The Turkish government, on the other hand, emphasizes that the clause merely aims that Turkey gets Japan's on nuclear fuel reprocessing know-how and experience. These concerns are easy to refute considering that Turkey is already a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, a landmark international treaty to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology.
The Turkish Atomic Energy Authority ("TAEK") does not remain indifferent to the safety concerns and continues to focus on the regulatory aspects of nuclear power to maintain a well-structured national legal framework. Accordingly, TAEK issued the Regulation on Radioactive Waste Management (Radyoaktif Atık Yönetimi Yönetmeliği) in 2013, the Regulation on Physical Protection of Nuclear Facilities and Nuclear Substances (Nükleer Tesislerin Ve Nükleer Maddelerin Fiziksel Korunması Yönetmeliği) in 2012 and the Regulation on Protection of Subcontractor Employees from Ionizing Radiation (Kontrollü Alanlarda Çalışan Harici Görevlilerin İyonlaştırıcı Radyasyondan Kaynaklanabilecek Risklere Karşı Korunmasına Dair Yönetmelik) in 2011.
The Turkish Ministry of Energy also displays efforts in establishing a national regime for liability as one of the mostly debated nuclear power issues. While the Paris Convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy (the "Paris Convention") of 1960 has the force of law in Turkey, it leaves room for its contracting states to adopt supplementary domestic legislation in relation third party nuclear liability issues. A draft law on liabilities in the field of nuclear energy (the "Draft Nuclear Liability Law") has been prepared by the Ministry of Energy and submitted to the council of ministers. Going one step beyond the Paris Convention, the Draft Nuclear Liability Law sets an upper limit to NPP operators' and nuclear fuel carriers' third party liability arising a nuclear incident. Moreover, draft proposal foresees the establishment of a nuclear damage determination commission to determine the amount of damage where the nuclear damage is above the liability upper limit of nuclear facility operators and nuclear fuel carriers. The raft Nuclear Liability Law also sets forth that both operators and carriers must maintain insurance in relation to their activities and that failure to comply with this requirement may result in administrative fines or revocation of operation licences. The Draft Nuclear Liability Law grants the monitoring authority to the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority.
While the Prime Minister Erdoğan admits that no project could be 100% safe and the nuclear opponents hope that Japan had lessons to learn from its recent experience, Turkey tries its best to secure a well-developed national regime to accommodate this sophisticated alternative source of energy.
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