Clouds gather over Turkey’s nuclear ambitions

Clouds gather over Turkey’s nuclear ambitions

In early December 2018, five years after Turkey and Japan signed a bilateral agreement concerning the construction of four nuclear reactors in the city of Sinop on the Black Sea, the project looks like it might be shelved. According to foreign news agencies, the Japanese-French consortium is set to abandon the project.

The consortium says that delays in launching construction have more than doubled the estimated costs. Tougher international safety measures that came into force following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 have reportedly inflated the bill from 20 billion to 44 billion dollars. Turkey’s economic problems and the significant plunge of the Turkish lira also played a role.

It should be noted that the Turkey-Japan deal and the Turkey-Russia agreement for the construction of the Akkuyu power station in the southern province of Mersin both contain controversial clauses (articles 8 and 12 respectively) giving Ankara access to enriched uranium and plutonium. Both nuclear materials are, under certain conditions, required to build nuclear weapons. According to a senior official in the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Article 8 was included on Turkey’s persistent request.

Amid reports that the Sinop project is likely to be aborted, construction of the Akkuyu plant has also been dogged by serious delays. The deal between Ankara and Moscow was signed in May 2010 and construction began in April 2018. So far only the foundation for Unit 1 has been laid.

The aforementioned reports should be read in the light of violent developments in the Middle East. Potential geopolitical changes in the wider region, combined with social and economic instability in Turkey and the radical initiatives of its ambitious and all-powerful leader, impair the outlook even for experts. Geopolitical plans often dictate unprofitable and, in many people’s eyes, inexplicable actions and investments. Similarly, unnoticeable geostrategic objectives, efforts to protect an equilibrium or to avert disrupting a balance, can have a catalytic effect on abandoning plans, in some cases even major plans that have already started.  

Without wishing to sound like a doomsayer for Turkey, history is littered with examples of similarly grandiose plans that remained unfulfilled.

Pantelis Oikonomou is a former nuclear inspector at the International Atomic Energy Agency. The article is an excerpt from his upcoming book “Global Nuclear Threat” (published by Sideris).

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