“Turkey’s nuclear obsession is dangerous and entirely misplaced”

DiaNuke.org interviewed prominent Turkish anti-nuke activist Pinar Demircan about the proposed nuclear plants in Turkey and the nuclear debate in her country after Fukushima:

Pinar Demircan

Pinar is a Turkish activist-researcher, working on climate and energy issues at Yesil Gazete. She is Project coordinator of Nukleersiz.org. Particularly after the Fukushima accident, she has been focusing on anti-nuclear struggles, where her earlier decade-long experience of working with Japanese companies has helped. She has undertaken several initiatives recently to spread awareness about Fukushima in Turkey and mobilise opinion against the proposed Japan-Turkey nuclear agreement.

Here is her write-up about history of antinuclear struggle in Turkey, on Sortir du Nuclaire’s website.

Turkey is one of the countries that the global nuclear industry is looking as new investment destination. How big are your country’s nuclear plans?

Although Turkey is the first country to sign Atom for Peace agreement in 1955 luckily we do not have any nuclear plants yet. To build it in the past the government has been pushing an investment on nuclear since 1965 but it has never been that much powerful till 2010. Please keep in mind that the Turkish government has been promoting nuclear energy more since 2010 when an agreement were signed between governments of Russia and Turkey by saying that it will be our “national” energy resource in Turkey.

In Turkey, we the opponents of nuclear energy often raise the question: How? How can it be “national”? Turkey has no nuclear background, no information , no educated personnel, no appropriate uranium reserves, no law, no infrastructure, no rules on radioactivity, no regulations and no safety law related to radioactivity. Let me remind you once more that in Turkey labor law and regulations are not definitely applied when the rules are considered as costly by employers. After Soma coal mine accident it was understood that the employer refrained himself from taking precautions or making evacuation plans in case of an accident.

According to the Turkish government’s publicly announced policy, there are plans for 3 nuclear power plants. One of them is Akkuyu, the other is Sinop project, plus there is one more called with the name of Igneada. But for now, only the first 2 are on table . First in 2010 May, Turkish Government made an agreement with Russian Government to have one nuclear power plant built in Mersin/ Akkuyu (at Mediterranean sea coast) . In the agreement it is written that the installed power capacity will be 4800 MW (with each 1200 MW 4 reactors) and this power plant is introduced to provide 5% of Turkey’s electrics need. The kind of reactor Mersin-Akkuyu is VVER-1200 and will be built by Russian public company Rosatom. Under the agreement, Turkey agrees to lend his field as Rosatom completely free. The center will include four reactors with a capacity of 1200 MW each. The reactors will cost $ 20 billion($ Bn) and Turkey will purchase electricity at a price of $ 0.1235 / kWh for 15 years under a guarantee payment contract of $ 71 billion.

According to the Turkish Law, Environmental Impact Assessment Report (CED report) is required for projects which are known as environmentally affecting and they are listed in Ministry of Environment and Urbanization. Since nuclear power plant projects do require CED approval Rosatom applied to receive CED approval for Akkuyu but, only 10 days were given to public to review the contents of the CED which was about 3000 pages. Soon after the application was completed, Akkuyu CED report was approved by ministry immediately one month later when President Putin visited Turkey in December 2015. Later it was proved by antinuclear associations and lawyers that there were irregularities such as forgery on documents: signatures were forged twice at different stages of the project. President of Greens, Rebecca Harms from European Parliament raised their concern on this issue against Turkish Ministry of Energy through a letter written on 28 January 2015(this letter was translated and published in Turkish on Yesil Gazete). No explanation were made by Energy Ministry regarding this letter. Besides in June 2015 it was understood that Turkish Government have also been hiding International Atom Energy Agency (IAEA) study report since Turkey has not fulfilled many of the recommendations mentioned in it.

Second, in May 2013, Turkish Government signed an agreement with Japan to have a nuclear power plant established in Sinop (Black Sea coast). Four ATMEA-1 reactors will be built by the joint venture between Areva and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and installed power capacity of this one will be 4400 MW (with each 1100MW 4 reactors). Cost of the investment were announced as $ 22 billion at first but after enrolment of Japanese companies to the project it is announced that it will cost 16 billion dollars. But even land licence has not been received as there has been no application for it yet.

On the other hand, 99% of Sinop is forest and Hamsilos Natural Park supported by Unesco where there are unique species have been living is neighbourhood, nuclear power plant construction area is very close. The decision to build a nuclear power plant taken, the government seized 60 square kilometres of land previously under the authority of the Ministry of Forest and started clearing an area of 10 square kilometers with 225 thousand trees have been cut in the area. Nuclear power plant site is only 17 kliometers away from the city centre of Sinop where population is around 200 thousand people. Besides Black sea is well known in Turkish fisheries and provides 70% fish of Turkey in which 70% of all is received from Sinop.

There is also an other nuclear power plant with 4 reactors have been considered to establish again in Sinop or in an other location called Igneada in Thrace ( in European continent of Turkey close to Bulgaria Border). But there has been no agreement for the 3rd one yet. Sometimes government use this issue to change the routine of daily news. But even it is so, antinuclear associations and public are very keen on resistance against any kind of plan such as nuclear or coal energy entrepreneurship in Igneada. Actually Igneda is a place where there are many species of both animals and plants, it is a swamp forest.

Is nuclear energy really so essential for Turkey’s energy needs?

Turkey’s yearly energy consumption is about 200 billion kwh/year. Altough Turkey is a country with a potential of 300 billion kwh/year solar power and this amount is twice of Germany’s solar power, solar energy production level in Turkey is only 1/10 of Germany’s solar power production. It is explained that in a year Germany receives sunshine for 1000 hours but Turkey receives it for 1700 hours.

Despite renewables can create its autonomy and make a real change by bringing an end to dependency on oil and gas, Turkey insists on importing such “dirty energy”resources. According to the 2013 import data, Turkey is the 5th country in the world which is importing natural gas, the thirteenth within gas oil importers, the eight one within all coal importers in the world. About natural gas, I can say that 40% of Turkey’s energy consumption is dependent on to natural gas that is imported from Russia . According to Energy Report of Turkish Architects and Engineers Association (TMMOB) at the end of 2014 , Turkey provides 16% of its energy from hydraulic power. Number of active hydraulic dams are about 478 and still 534 dams have been planning . Turkey produce 48% of its energy from natural gas, 30% from coal, 3% from wind, 1% from geothermal and solar power. (TMMOB Energy Report ,2015 January (statistics from Turkey Electrics Public Company, TEIAS) This means that Turkey is violently damaging the environment in its lands by extremely increasing numbers of hydraulic dam plans. The amount of water that is left to prevent ecological damage known as “life line water” is not enough to feed its environment. Turkey is also keeping its dependency on fossil fuels. Both import of fossil fuels and its usage in huge amounts destroy the nature. As well as importing coal Turkey also export it by decreasing the amount of agricultural areas and having them changed to coal mines. Although there are many coal mines Turkey is not a country who completely adopt safety and environmental rules. Finally last year in May Turkey experienced a coal mine mortality accident and 301 employees were announced as “dead”, in fact number of dead people were supposed to be about 900 people .

Has the Turkish government factored-in Fukushima? Was there an independent safety review after the accident in Japan?

Last year in 2015 February, bureaucrats such as governor and municipality of Sinop Center visited Japan. Black Sea Regional Improvement Project (KUZKA) in Turkey provided a trip for the bureaucrats including Mayor of Sinop with their families. They spent around 1 week in Japan but we, as citizens were very lately informed about details of the trip and their meetings held with Japanese officers in Japan. What we know is, they were not allowed to visit any nuclear power plant in Japan due to safety rules.

I have not heard any other visit performed by Turkish Government to examine Fukushima effects. The only visits were performed by our current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or his group to Japan to fix matters on Sinop nuclear power plant deal or any other deal to shake hands or show kindness.

How reliable are nuclear industry’s safety assurances in Turkey?

Turkey is a country who signed Atom for Peace in 1955 as the first country in the world. In 1962 Turkish Atom Energy Agency were established for the first time but later it became Turkish Atomic Energy Institution (TAEK) in 1965 . Since then, Turkey have had the desire of establishing nuclear power plants strong and has tried bidding process 4 times but never succeeded (1965, 1972, 1982, 1993) to build a nuclear plant, but they were all resulted without success One reason to the failure was strong public opposition against nukes but there was also some other reasons such as political and economic crisis repeating every 10 year.

Turkey does not have a good record about nuclear, including its ineffective response to the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

Chernobyl Effects

Turkey is one of the countries who have been suffering from Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. The radioactive cloud from Chernobyl flew over Turkey for mainly ten days. Five days after the Chernobyl accident, the radiation Western Black Sea measured was 20 times higher than the norm, and it was 1000 times higher Thrace (Western Turkey) . Unfortunately iodine tablets were not distributed for the people of Black sea same as it was done for the people in Eastern Europe regions. Due to radioactive contamination of tea plant in 1986 in May 48,000 tons of tea widely contaminated with cesium-137 were mixed with 130 000 tons of previous year’s tea. In Turkey tea is consumed approximately 10 thousand tonnes of tea per year. Knowing that a packet of tea weighs 1 kilo, it means they drank a mixture contaminated for 13 years.

“Everything is under control! Drink Tea and Eat nuts! Nuts also is a product of Blacksea. A little radiation is even good for health! “said Minister of Health to television after the Chernobyl accident. Three years after the first cases of cancer have appeared in the region of the Black Sea. 28 years later, the hospitals are still filled with people of cancer disease. In the 20 years since Chernobyl, the number of cancer cases has increased dramatically, especially in the Black Sea region , but no scientific studies in this area could be performed.

Mortality accident in a country without nuclear power plant

Although not possessing atomic power plant, Turkey has already undergone radiation accidents mortals. In December 1998, the radioactive material was thrown into a single discharge from a hospital. Turkish Atomic Energy Institution (TAEK) which was established to regulate radioactive issues in 1962 , was convicted for not inspecting the safety conditions of the hospital properly. There was one fatal case and it was estimated that 19 people were hospitalized within total 300 people who had radioactive illness.

Lead factory causing cancer cases in Izmir

In December 2012, another scandal has been revealed: An old lead factory, Aslan Avcı Ltd, was storing radioactive waste since 2007 in Izmir. Following the investigation of a journalist alerted by local residents who faced a resurgence cancer and malformations, Antinuclear Platform and the lawyers made scientific analysis and made public visits. TAEK did not accept its responsibility not to be guilty but confirmed that there has been radioactive pollution, and it will be cleaned up by May 2015. Unfortunately the company who was selected to make decontamination of radioactivity did not apply for CED and started its process without receiving CED approval although it is legally forced to do so, as a result radioactivity is spread into the air, soil,water and surroundings where people are living.The Gaziemir case is still at court to force the decontamination company to apply CED. Even Change.org campaign is released by opponents from public to avoid such radioactivity contamination.

Moreover, the bay of Akkuyu marked for construction of a nuclear power plant is only 25 km from an active seismic fault. An earthquake of magnitude 7.5 occurred in Akkuyu in 1872. Today the situation is delicate when we know that he did not produce earthquake6-7 magnitude in the last half-millennium: this suggests that tensions have steadily accumulate within in this period. Another active fault starting from Mersin to the west, that of Kozan, joins the sea Akkuyu Bay.

What is the status of the nuclear supply deal from Japan?

We know that the land licence to build nuclear power plant in Sinop has not received, yet there has been no application from Turkish government to receive a land licence for Sinop. But Japanese engineers to make researches and analysis in Blacksea region has settled with their families .What we know is they are having a life apart from public and we heard that they feel uncomfortable since people in Sinop are against nuclear power plant project and organizing huge demonstrations even approximately with gathering of 30 thousand people on the anniversary of Chernobyl and Fukushima. In 2015 it was explained that cost of the nuclear power plant were known as 16 billion dollars although it had been announced as 22 billiondollars. We, as people in Turkey really wonder what will happen to the difference of these two amounts and who will make benefit of 6 billion dollars. Again 2015 it was announced that Taisei and Obayashi corporations will be in the project to establish the nuclear power plant project in Sinop.

Does Turkish nuclear program have a military dimension?

Military dimension has always a part of nuclear power plant projects since uranium enrichment processes are used to make nuclear bomb and also nuclear waste is a resource to produce it. Actually we see “uranium enrichment” as a statement in the agreement signed between Japanese and Turkish governments for Sinop. It is frightening to see uranium enrichment and fuel processing was mentioned and Turkey was enabled to produce plutonium for Turkey itself.

In Mersin /Akkuyu there is no information about where the nuclear waste storages will be and which party (Turkish/Russian) will be responsible party to take the wastes after cooling processes of 10 years and how will it be performed.

How has the civil society responded? How strong is the anti-nuke movement after Fukushima, in Turkey?

Antinuclear movement in Turkey has a story of more than 40 very active years so, I will try to summarize as well and will focus on civil reactions after Fukushima. Civil society in Turkey has been sensitive against nukes especially after having experienced Chernobyl in 1986. Effects of Chernobyl had been experienced more in Blacksea. Sinop is one of the main cities affected too much in Blacksea. Unfortunately no scientific report were prepared and released formally by government but there is one report conducted by doctors. Besides people know that Japanese government who was the actors in Fukushima nuclear accident will build the nuclear power plant in Turkey. For this reason in 2014 for the 29th anniversary of Chernobyl nuclear power accident more than 30 thousand people were gathered in Sinop to say no to a nuclear power plant to be built in Sinop. Every year on the anniversary of Fukushima and Chernobyl there have been gatherings, panels, civil organizations event, camps, human chains organized by civil organizations as well . Yesil Dusunce Dernegi(Green Thought Association) where I am member and Nukleersiz.org where I am project coordinator also performed some activities and campaigns to raise awareness against nukes with all other civil organizations and people. Civil organizations and some citizens have close relations with parliament members and they are trying to spread nuclear related information to political actors such as parliament members too. Antinuclear groups carried the issue even to European parliament to have them reflected Akkuyu issue into their reports. Finally European parliament president Rebecca Harms raised the issue to Turkeys Europe report. Since the two main left wing parties are interested in environmental issues and blackouts in nuclear power plants they started an investigation against Energy ministry, prime minister or environment ministry in 2014 . Civil organizations tried to enhance their ties through getting organized by international networks . For example Nuclear Free Mediterranean network were established between countries around Mediterranean and a statement was released on which med countries signed and agreed to be part of the network.

Rally against nuclear power in Sinop, 2014

Rally against nuclear power in Sinop, 2014

How has the Turkish government responded to the civil movement against nuclear power?

In general Turkish government started to use police riot power more after Gezi revolt in 2013 June (During Gezi attacks, 11 citizens ncluding a 10 years old child were killed in all over Turkey). We started to experience tear gas usage more than ever in any kind of unrest even at to stop school children fight in a rural city life. Since there is environmental massacre in Turkey sometimes there are protests, gatherings and prevention acts in 2-3 cities on the same day especially in hydraulics projects, police come across with the villagers and use tear gas against them and the quarrel may end with injuries or mortality cases but sure many of them were arrested. The situation is not much different for nuclear protests in 1995 villagers fought with police who tried to stop their entrance to the nuclear power plant area in Akkuyu but after 2009 with present main party of government the situation is expected to be much more harsh. For example in CED Environment Assessment Evaluation Meeting and later court case police interrupted Rosatom company owners and public protest police used tear gas . At the opening ceremony of Akkuyu construction police used tear gas.

You visited Fukushima this year. In what manner have you tried to convey the Fukushima story to the people in your country and what has been the response?

I wrote my impressions about Fukushima in a series of 4 seperate but continuous articles basing on our different focuses in Fukushima and Sendai at internet newspaper Yesil Gazete (Green Gazette) where I am performing as climate and energy editor . I tried to reflect what has been going on in Fukushima and how life of people were affected due to Fukushima nuclear accident . This 4 articles were also published in an other internet newspaper, namely Ilerihaber I wrote an other article for Yesil Sol Gundem a journal of left wing party Greens in Turkey. Besides I tried to share my experiences through Radio programme(Acik radio) I was invited. Other opportunities for me to share my experiences were panels I was invited. Out of sharing my experiences with the effort of antinuclear platform, we had the booklet on 10 Lessons from Fukushima nuclear accident translated into Turkish.


Profile photo: Pınar Demircan in front of the Sinop map on which plant species and rich flora of Sinop (the city where nuclear power plant has been planned to be built) is marked

Join discussion: leave a comment