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Turkey’s nuclear plans threaten East Med ecosystems via ecathimerini

Elias G. Hadjikoumis

Turkey has had plans to establish nuclear power plants since the 1970s, and these plans have become a key aspect of the country’s goal of economic development and growth. The Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant (ANPP) is the first. Turkey and Russia ratified the agreement to construct the plant in May 2010. The agreement indicated that Akkuyu NGS Elektrik Uretim Corp, a subsidiary of Rosatom, would construct, own and operate the plant. The nuclear power plant is to comprise four reactors. While the major construction activities began in March 2018, the first reactor unit is expected to be operational in 2023 and the remaining units in 2026. 

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Nuclear is considered a clean source of energy because no carbon dioxide is emitted during operation, however, all activities related to building and running a plant lead to the production of high amounts of CO2, including the current construction and plant development processes at Akkuyu. Additionally, the plant will use uranium as its main source of fuel, whose extraction processes release great amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. The power plant is located close to the Eastern Mediterranean, a region which comprises a vast set of coastal and marine ecosystems that deliver valuable benefits to all its coastal inhabitants. The region is set to experience negative environmental changes because of the huge amounts of water that will be required to cool the plant’s reactors. Pumping the seawater used to cool the four reactors back into the sea could lead to an 80% increase in water temperatures (2 to 5 degrees Celsius). The temperature rise would affect the area’s marine diversity. Environmentalists expect a decline in the number of fish because the high temperatures would probably kill most of them and reduce the egg-laying capacity of the rest. The high temperatures will also make the marine environment uninhabitable for a colony of Mediterranean monk seals and a very rare species of sea daffodil (Pancratium maritimum).

ANPP will affect countries around Turkey, especially Cyprus and Greece. Greece has already raised the alarm due to the lack of significant evaluation of the project and any protective measures for the environment and its neighbors. 

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According to the European Parliament, the location of the site in a region prone to earthquakes poses a threat to Turkey and the entire Mediterranean region. The facility is situated 16 miles from the Ecemis fault line at the meeting point of the Eurasian and African tectonic plates. The fault was initially believed to be inactive when the nuclear plant’s site license was issued in 1976. However, scientific studies published in recent decades have shown that the fault is active. A nuclear engineering professor from an Istanbul university, one of the original nuclear engineers who signed the site license in 1976, indicates that the current construction is based on ignorant planning and may pose a considerable threat to the Mediterranean region. He argues that the condition of the area has changed, and the threat of earthquakes needs to be assessed before proceeding with the projects. The location of Turkey in the highly seismically active region and recent cases of devastating earthquakes in the country supports the arguments of the European Parliament and the professor. A strong earthquake could result in devastating effects like the Fukushima disaster in Japan. In the latter case, the tsunami surged over the plant’s defenses and flooded the reactors, sparking a major disaster that led to the displacement of 150,000 people. The explosion also injured at least 16 workers, with dozen more exposed to radiation during the cooling of the reactors.

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But the greatest concern in the development of ANPP is radioactive waste in the East Medn region. Turkey has not yet signed the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management which came into effect in June 2001. Burying radioactive waste in the region would make it uninhabitable and in the event of an accident, the radioactive leak would be catastrophic to the environment. Local observers have already raised these issues. The observers argue that there has not been any clear explanation as to how Rosatom will dispose of the radioactive byproduct material generated by the nuclear plant. They fear that the site may even become a Russian nuclear dumpsite.

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