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Flagship Project: How Nuclear Cooperation Can Strengthen Moscow-Ankara Relations

Photo by Daria Sizova on Unsplash

The first nuclear fuel delivery ceremony was held at the Akkuyu nuclear power plant under construction in Turkey . Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan participated in the event via video link. The event was broadcasted on the Kremlin website.

“I emphasize: this is a flagship project. It brings both mutual economic benefits and certainly contributes to the strengthening of a multifaceted partnership between our two states, which is based on the principles of good neighborliness, mutual respect and consideration of each other’s interests,” Putin said.

According to the Russian leader, once Akkuyu reaches its full capacity, Turkey “will enjoy the advantage of a power that has its own nuclear energy, and nuclear energy is known to be one of the cheapest.

Putin said that with the delivery of nuclear fuel to the first unit, Turkey gains the appropriate certificate. Thus, the nuclear power plant acquires the official status of a nuclear facility.

The Russian leader noted that Rosatom, which is building the nuclear power plant in Turkey, uses “the most advanced engineering solutions and technologies based on the strictest standards of physical safety, sanitary and environmental requirements.

Putin called the implementation of the nuclear power plant project the largest nuclear construction project in the world. The daily number of workers involved is close to 30,000, two-thirds of them are Turkish citizens, the Russian president said.

“I would like to emphasize that Russian and Turkish nuclear specialists – engineers and workers – are working very cohesively and amicably, thanks to which the NPP is being built in full compliance with the approved schedule, and, as already noted here, all four power units are being built at once on Generation 3+ reactors with a total capacity of 4,800 MW,” Putin stressed.

Speaking at the ceremony of delivering the first nuclear fuel to the plant, Erdogan thanked his Russian colleague for his assistance in the project. The Turkish president called the station the largest joint investment with Moscow. Erdogan estimated the volume of capital investments in the station at $20 billion.

According to the Turkish president, the launch of Akkuyu will reduce the import of natural gas and will have a positive impact on increasing the national income of the republic.

“With the delivery of nuclear fuel to our power plant by air and sea, Akkuyu has acquired the status of a nuclear facility. The European Commission has recognized nuclear energy as green energy and eliminated the hesitation. With Akkuyu, we have made our country part of this development. Our country, albeit 60 years late, joins the club of nuclear powers of the world,” RIA News Agency quoted Erdoğan as saying.

Rafael Grossi, Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who also participated in the delivery ceremony of the first nuclear fuel, praised the project. He stressed that Akkuyu NPP will be implemented in accordance with all international safety and quality standards.

Construction of Akkuyu in the Turkish province of Mersin near the city of Gulnar on the Mediterranean Sea began in April 2018. The project includes four power units with Russian VVER generation 3+ water-water reactors. The capacity of each power unit will be 1.2,000 MW.

“The reactor buildings of the Akkuyu NPP power units are equipped with a double containment. The outer containment is made of reinforced concrete and is designed to withstand extreme external impacts: earthquakes of up to nine magnitude, tsunamis, hurricanes, as well as their combinations,” Rosatom said in its materials.

According to the state corporation’s website, the Akkuyu NPP construction is the first project in the global nuclear industry to be implemented according to the Build-Own-Operate model.

On April 27, Rosatom CEO Alexei Likhachev reported that construction work on the first unit should be completed during 2023.

Ankara, for its part, expects all of the plant’s power units to be operational by 2028. When it reaches full capacity, Akkuyu will generate 35 billion kWh of electricity. As a result, the plant will cover 10 percent of Turkey’s electricity needs.

Moreover, according to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ankara intends to continue cooperation with Moscow in the field of nuclear energy. According to the Turkish leader, the experience of the nuclear power plant will allow Russia and Turkey to build the second and third nuclear power plants in the republic.

The republic’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Fatih Donmez told journalists during the ceremony that Akkuyu is one of the best examples of mutual understanding and cooperation between Russia and Turkey, especially at the leadership level of the two countries.

In a conversation with , Vyacheslav Kulagin, director of the Center for the Study of World Energy Markets at the Institute of Energy Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, noted that Turkey is extremely interested in further strengthening cooperation with Russia in the nuclear energy sector.

“Turkey realizes that the construction of nuclear power plants is a new era in its development, a long-term contribution to the sustainability of its energy system. The plants will operate for at least 80 years without emitting harmful substances. At the same time, Russia offers favorable terms of cooperation, highly efficient and safe technologies, control over the delivery of nuclear fuel and the removal of spent fuel,” Kulagin explained.

According to the expert, the Turkish industry needs Akkuyu, given the growth rates it is showing and the Turkish leadership’s plans to develop various areas of the industry.

According to Kulagin, only nuclear power plants can “insure” Turkey and other countries dependent on hydrocarbon imports against price hikes in gas, oil and coal for decades. In addition, the ongoing energy crisis since 2021 has once again demonstrated the high importance of the nuclear industry for maintaining the energy balance in the economy, noted the expert.

“Throughout its history, the nuclear power sector has demonstrated stable performance, and has almost always been an area of major investment. Turkey weighed a lot before starting cooperation with the Russian Federation and will apparently only increase it, despite the policy of the West and attempts of some foreign statesmen to impose sanctions against Rosatom, which is dangerous and reckless in itself,” Kulagin stressed.

Vadim Kozyulin, head of the Center for Global Studies and International Relations at the IAMP of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, holds a similar view. In a conversation with , the expert expressed confidence that Ankara will only increase cooperation with Russia in the field of peaceful nuclear energy, despite attempts by the West and Kiev to hinder this.

“Akkuyu is a serious landmark project. It’s not just economics, it’s also a powerful political effect, showing that calls to get rid of Rosatom and close the Russian state corporation do not matter. Turkey shows that it will continue to move on its own course, to cooperate with Russia where it is profitable,” Koziulin said.

However, according to the expert, cooperation in the nuclear industry does not remove a number of acute contradictions in the Russian-Turkish relations, which concern the situation in Ukraine, Syria and Transcaucasia.

“Relations between Moscow and Ankara have known both ups and downs. Of course, the problems that Russia and Turkey have will not go away from the agenda. However, strengthening ties in the nuclear sphere can act as a stabilizer for bilateral relations in the long term,” Kozyulin concluded.

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