24 July 2022


Akkuyu‑4 in Turkey: Second Construction Start in a Week for the Russian Nuclear Industry—Anyways 4

WNISR, 24 July 2022

On 21 July 2022, Akkuyu Nuclear announced that first concrete was poured for the base slab of the reactor building of Unit 4 of the Turkish Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, marking the official construction start.

The Akkuyu project is based on a series of agreements signed between the Russian and Turkish Governments in May 2010 which provide for the construction of four Russian-designed VVER1200 reactors (Generation III+) for a total capacity of 4.8 GW at the Akkuyu site located on Turkey’s eastern Mediterranean coast. The project is implemented by JSC Akkuyu Nuclear—a subsidiary of Rosatom, established in Turkey in December 2010—under a BOO (Build-Own-Operate)-model, which assigns the responsibility for the supply of all engineering, construction, maintenance and operation work to the Russian entity.

The site was first licensed in 1976, but none of the country’s previous attempts to acquire nuclear technology has ever come this far. At this stage, the four units are under construction, since April 2018 for Unit 1, April 2020 for Unit 2, March 2021 for Unit 3 and now July 2022 for the fourth unit.

Official construction start of Unit 4 of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant in Turkey (Photo: Turkish Ministry of Energy)

The construction-license application for Unit 4 had been under review since May 2020 and, on 27 October 2021, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority of Turkey (NDK) issued a statement announcing that the license had been granted “based on NDK Board’s decision on 28.10.2021”... one day after the press release. It is unclear whether this is a typo or whether there is another reason for the incoherence between the two dates.

Unit 1 is expected to start up on 29 October 2023, followed by one unit per year the following years until the plant is fully operational in 2026. The symbolic date of 29 October 2023 had long been chosen as a target date in the revised schedule, since it marks the centennial of the founding of the Republic of Turkey.

Back in 2010, construction was expected to start in 2011 and be completed by 2018 for an estimated cost of US$20 billion. However, the schedule evolved over time as the project suffered various setbacks and delays over the years, such as political tensions between the two countries following Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet at the Syrian border in November 2015, the discovery of cracks in the foundations of Unit 1 in 2019, and the failed efforts of Akkuyu Nuclear to secure local investments to reduce its share in the project. It was indeed assumed since the early stages of planning that a Turkish partner would take a 49-percent stake in the project. Yet, despite endless discussions and preliminary agreements with various potential investors, the deals were never finalized, leaving Rosatom with its 99.2 percent stake.

Not surprisingly, the Russian conglomerate has met financial difficulties which required several additional loans. The latest were contracted with Sovcombank in November 2021 for a total value of US$800 million. While the construction costs are still put at US$20 billion, Rosatom had already warned back in 2012 that total costs could reach US$25 billion, and in 2018 President Erdogan also said the investment might exceed the planned US$20 billion.

As reported in previous WNISR posts and in various editions of the annual report, the project also sparked national and international controversy, as Governments of neighboring countries expressed concerns over the perceived lack of access to information surrounding the plant and legal actions were initiated by local NGOs. Aspects that raised concern include the chosen reactor design, the selected site despite a controversial environmental impact assessment, and the workers’ poor safety conditions as several fatal accidents occurred on the construction site, the latest reported in November 2021.

Further difficulties are likely to arise as a result of sanctions and their impact on the supply chain that affect Russia as a direct consequence of the war in Ukraine.

Nonetheless, construction start of Akkuyu’s Unit 4 marks the fourth nuclear reactor construction Russia is launching abroad since it attacked Ukraine in February 2022.... A busy week for Head of Rosatom, Alexey Likhachev, as the official was in Egypt the previous day to attend a ceremony held to mark the construction launch of Egypt’s first nuclear power plant in Dabba. Previously in 2022, Rosatom had started construction on Tianwan-8 in February 2022, and on Xudabu-4 in May 2022, both located in China.

The nuclear power-reactor construction-start in Turkey is the fifth in the world since the beginning of the year, and the second one outside China, following first concrete in Egypt. It is also the fourth launch by the Russian industry, inspite of the ongoing war in Ukraine.

The event brings the total number of global nuclear reactor constructions to 56 of which 22 are implemented by the Russian industry, including three units built at home.