Turkey: Is Nuclear Power Safe Enough?: Operational Risk Mitigation Procedures

Introduction

Electric power is the most significant power source for industry, modern and prosperous life, and science and technological progress. Over the years energy experts have been working to produce electricity in harmony with both environment and human health. Today, it is obvious that fossil fuels such as coal, lignite etc. have been losing their significance in energy generation. Since fossil fuels have not been giving expected performance, polluting the environment and also exceeding the emission standards, most developed countries have been searching to produce more electricity with less budget and energy. Popularity of nuclear energy plants have raised after this search in the world. Compared to the other energy resources, the search for more electricity production with a minimal budget, had led some developed and developing countries to use uranium that is cheaper and obtainable and ubiquitous, as a resource of nuclear energy.

In spite of environment protection associations and organizations' activities and awareness that had created by several environment protection organizations, and even though several developed countries such as Germany and Japan have decided to shut down nuclear plants, most of today's developed and developing countries are still using nuclear power as an energy resource. As a developing country Turkey is one of them and the government of Turkey has decided to build a nuclear power plant to meet the country's increasing energy demand.

Today Turkey is still being regarded as a booming economy with its several industries such as energy, pharma, retail and banking sector among other developing countries in the world and these industries make Turkey one of the attraction centers in the world for the foreign investors. Due to its well deserved reputation as an attraction center energy need has been increasing over the years. In order to meet this energy need, Turkey actualized Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant as a pioneer in 2010.

Considering that Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant operators promise to produce 80 billion kWh in a year1, it seems that it will meet Turkey's considerable part of energy need. However, even though nuclear power seems that it is one of the safest energy resources, issues such as possible occupational accidents, nuclear wastes and their damages to environment and liability for damages might prove to be very challenging issues for Turkey.

Legislation in Turkey

In order to deal with above mentioned issues and create a domestic nuclear legislation, besides several international energy agreements2, Turkey ratified the Paris Convention on Nuclear Third Party Liability (Paris Convention or Convention) in 1961 by Law No 299. Despite the ratification of the Convention there has been not a domestic legislation enacted regarding nuclear effects on human and environment and liability of these effects and damages until 2010. By the year of 2010, Turkey passed the "Law on Establishment and Operation of Nuclear Power and Energy Sales" (Nuclear Law) which regulates the liability of operator in case of a nuclear incident. Although the law refers to the Paris Convention in its liability articles, it can be said that Turkey has a domestic law after 2010 by this legislation.

Nuclear Incident, Possible Effects on Human and Environment

The description of nuclear incident is not foreseen in Turkish Nuclear Law but Paris Convention is referred in the law. In the Convention, nuclear incident means any occurrence or succession of occurrences having the same origin which causes damage, provided that such occurrence or succession of occurrences, or any of the damage caused, arises out of or results either from the radioactive properties, or a combination of radioactive properties with toxic, explosive, or other hazardous properties of nuclear fuel or radioactive products or waste or with any of them, or from ionizing radiations emitted by any source of radiation inside a nuclear installation.3 In other words, an occurrence in nuclear plant or in case of transportation will be regarded as a nuclear incident in the scope of the Convention.

Significant nuclear accidents in the world are Windscala Nuclear Incident in Britain (1957), Three Mile Island Accident in USA (1979), Chernobyl Disaster in Ukraine (1986), Tokaimura (1999) and Fukushima Nuclear Accident in Japan (2011). Even though nuclear power plants are secure when required measures are taken, as is known, in case of an incident they can be very dangerous and damaging for both humans and environment considering that radiation effect appears after many years. In the accidents mentioned above, for instance, many workers and residents near nuclear power plants have died, been hospitalized or received a long term treatment. Agricultural activities have stopped and many animals have died. Besides, there are still isolated zones in order to protect people from damages of radiation for instance, since 1986 when Chernobyl accident happened, some cities such as Pripyat4 called as "ghost cities".

Operator's Liability Arising from Nuclear Activities

  1. Environmental Law: as is mentioned above, since there is not a special law5 which regulates nuclear wastes and liability due to nuclear pollution, other laws such as environmental law and civil law fill legal gap in this area. Environmental Law of Turkey is in accordance with Turkish Civil Law and vicinity provisions in civil law; which foresees absolute liability for the persons who pollute environment. However the provision is very general and does not regulate the waste pollution and liability arising from pollution or an incident. In order to specify liability for nuclear incident and pollution, Turkey has signed the Paris Convention and become a contracting state.
  2. Paris Convention: There is not a detailed provision regarding operator's liability in case of nuclear incident in Turkish Nuclear Law; however Nuclear Law directly refers to Paris Convention in regard to liability. In Paris Convention, absolute and limited liability is foreseen for operator. There is not a special provision for carrier's liability but operator of nuclear plant is held responsible in case of transportation of nuclear materials6. As a general rule, operator or carrier is liable for nuclear accidents however in some instances, third persons can be liable for incident according to their fault in the scope of the Convention.

Conclusion

Today nuclear power is regarded as a primary energy resource mostly for developing countries considering that fossil fuels losing their significance. A nuclear power plant is an eco-friendly resource considering its greenhouse gas emission rates comparing to other energy resources. On the other hand, it is one of the damaging resources in case of an incident. Considering the past nuclear incidents in different countries and their effects on human and environment, providing a strong legal basis regarding measures to be taken and determining operators' liability must be formed in domestic laws.

Turkey has Law on Establishment and Operation of Nuclear Power and Energy Sales. Turkey does not have a special law which regulates nuclear power operator's liability therefore the liability shall be determined by general liability provisions7 and environment law rules. Even though the law does not regulate operator's liability, directly refers to Paris Convention which Turkey is one of the contracting states and the Convention defines the liability of operator as a absolute and limited liability.

Footnotes

1. http://www.akkunpp.com/mersin-turkiyenin-enerjisine-enerji-katacak

2. Today Republic of Turkey is contracting state of many international energy agreements such as "Convention on the Cooperation in the Atomic Energy Field between the NATO Members and its Amendment", "Convention on the Establishment of a Security Control in the Field of Nuclear Energy", "Protocol on the Establishment of a Court and Convention on the European Company for the Chemical Separation of Radioactive Fuel", "Convention on Nuclear Safety, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons", "Agreement between the Government of Turkey and The IAEA for the Application of Safeguard in Connection with the Treaty on the NPT", "The International Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material", "The International Convention on the Emergency Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or a Radiological Emergency", "The International Convention on the Early Notification in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or a Radiological Emergency", "Protocol Additional To The Agreement Between The Government Of The Republic Of Turkey And The International Atomic Energy Agency For The Application Of Safeguards In Connection With The Treaty On The Non-Proliferation Of Nuclear Weapons" and "Agreement for Cooperation Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy"

3. Article 1 of the Convention: https://www.oecd-nea.org/law/nlparis_conv.html

4. Pripyat is an abandoned city in northern Ukraine, near the border with Belarus.

5. Nuclear Law does not directly regulate the operator's liability and nuclear waste pollution. The law refers directly to the Paris Convention.

6. Articles 3 -5 of the Convention: https://www.oecd-nea.org/law/nlparis_conv.html

7. According to general liability provisions of Turkish legislation, the operator shall be liable within the "period of limitation" which is between 2-10 years.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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