So it begins.. by Ivan Plis
A ceremony Tuesday launched construction on Turkey’s first-ever nuclear power plant, a move ostensibly aimed at increasing the country’s energy independence and boosting its economy.
Amid protests, Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the Akkuyu Nuclear Plant featured Turkish officials as well as representatives of Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear agency. Rosatom will build the plant, a role it also played with Iran’s first nuclear energy facility.
Despite Tuesday’s ceremony, construction is not anticipated to start in earnest until the end of 2016. And just weeks ago, Reuters reported that the Akkuyu project is “unlikely to be ready before 2022.”
The ceremony came while Middle Eastern countries responded to a pending deal between the U.S. and Iran on that country’s nuclear energy program. Skeptics of the deal have warned that any open door to an Iranian nuclear weapon would provoke sudden and rapid nuclear proliferation throughout the region. Besides Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have also made recent steps toward refining nuclear material. (RELATED: What Would A Middle East Nuclear Arms Race Look Like?)
Energy imports cost Turkey billions of dollars per year, and sinking oil prices may have encouraged Russian participation in the $20 billion deal. But Turkey is also wary of signs that its rival Iran, a key player in the regional energy market, may see an eventual pathway to military-grade nuclear enrichment. (RELATED: 5 Ways The Iran Deal Could Go Sour, And One Sign Of Hope)
Speaking at Tuesday’s ceremony, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said that “Development cannot happen in a country without nuclear energy,” according to Agence France-Presse.
Critics of the project on the Mediterranean coast compare its risks to Japan’s 2011 Fukishima power plant disaster, saying that its proximity to a tectonic fault line may trigger an accident during the plant’s lifetime. Turkish officials have dismissed these concerns.
Environmental activists protested Tuesday’s ceremony by locking the site’s gates, effectively trapping participants in the ceremony for about 20 minutes before police dispersed them with water cannons.