WNISR, 18 March 2021
Presidents Putin and Erdogan assist the construction start of Akkuyu-3 via video link (Photo: Akkuyu Nuclear JSC)
First basemat concrete was poured for the foundation of the Akkuyu-3 reactor building on 10 March 2021. The construction start brings to three VVER-1200 AES-2006 reactors being built at the Akkuyu site, located in Mersin province on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan attended the ceremony via video link. The Rosatom reactors are being supplied under a Build Own Operate (BOO) agreement, and will be operated by a Rosatom subsidiary, JSC Akkuyu Nuclear.
The Akkuyu project has been in the planning since the 1970s and was delayed countless times. The construction itself was hampered with technical problems including cracks identified in the basemat of Unit 1 that had to be repaired. Nuclear power was met with fierce opposition, nationally and locally, concerned about nuclear safety, earthquake risks and negative social impacts. Two thirds of Turkish people polled opposed nuclear power in a 2018 survey.
An agreement was signed in May 2010 for four VVER 1200 reactors (Generation III+), with construction originally expected to start in 2013 and operation of the first unit from 2020. After further delays, construction at Akkuyu-1 was launched by Russian builder Rosatom in April 2018 followed by Akkuyu-2 in April 2020. Unit 1 is now planned for operation in 2023.
The safety and security risks from Akkuyu site were recently raised by the Greek government. The first independent assessment of the VVER design, was completed by the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) in June 2018. ENSREG concluded that there were significant issues related to the design and safety systems. The assessment of ENSREG contrasts with Rosatom claims that, "They are absolutely safe in operation and fully meet the IAEA’s post-Fukushima requirements.”
In March 2020, a group of Turkish NGOs filed a court case against the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization to halt the construction work of the Akkuyu project because of the lack of a valid environmental impact assessment and generation license. Specific concerns expressed include the proximity of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant site to the active North Anatolian Ecemiş seismic fault and that operation by Rosatom poses a national security threat.
The Akkuyu site lies 26 km from the Ecemis fault line where the Eurasian and African tectonic plates meet. “I’m not against nuclear power...I’m simply against ignorant nuclear planning” said Tolga Yarman in 2011, a professor in the nuclear engineering department of Istanbul’s Okan University, and one of the original nuclear engineers who signed off on the original Akkuyu site license in 1976 when it was believed the fault was not active.