MERSIN, TURKEY—A Russian firm is set to build Turkey’s first nuclear power plant. But before the foundation has been poured they are working first on building public support for the new plant in a country not confident the benefits of nuclear power outweigh the risks.
In May 2010 Russia and Turkey signed an intergovernmental agreement for Russian state-owned nuclear energy corporation Rosatom to build, own, and operate the first nuclear power plant in Turkey.
But before any construction work starts, Rosatom has first opened two Nuclear Energy Information Centers that frequently draw attention of the public, protestors, and the local media.
One of the information centers was opened on February 10, 2013 in Mersin, which is 150 km away from the town of Akkuyu where the nuclear power plant will be situated. The center employs five people including two experts on nuclear physics.
“50 percent of the population is against nuclear energy in Turkey. The ratio is higher in Mersin” says Information Center Manager Faruk Uzel. “Therefore the new information center aims to educate public about the operations and future benefits of nuclear power plant.”
Russia’s reputation on nuclear power is still overshadowed by the catastrophic Chernobyl accident in 1986.
“This information center is purely a propaganda office of Rosatom, which is responsible for Chernobyl” says Cenk Levi, representative of Greenpeace in Istanbul.
Levi also says that 69 percent of Turkey’s population is against nuclear energy and that more than 80 percent favor renewables, according to the polls conducted after the Fukushima accident in 2011.
Recently, NGOs including Greenpeace participated in a protest against nuclear energy in Istanbul and there have been several protests in other cities as well. “Although our protests have not increased due to propaganda center, we have become more visible in media compared to last year,” said Gulcin Sahin, communications director for Greenpeace in Istanbul.
According to Uzel there is no big resistance apart from a few protests in front of the information center. “Rosatom is not afraid of resistance by public, this is a common PR practice applied by the Russian company in all countries they operate.” Uzel has also welcomed the protests by saying “We are grateful for the protests as they make us more visible.”
Roughly 15-30 people per day visit the center according to Uzel. In addition, there are visiting students, teachers and NGOs. The company has opened another information center close to Akkuyu and has started teaching Russian language to locals at that center for free. The company expects to employ 7,000-10,000 people during construction of the site and then employ 2,500 engineers and technicians long term at the power plant.
“People fear what they do not know. The world’s first power plant was built in Russia in 1954. Russia has learned its lesson from Chernobyl and has founded the world’s most secure system,” said Tahir Agayev PR manager of Akkuyu NGS, a Turkish subsidiary of Rosatom.
Turkey has had plans for establishing nuclear power generation since 1970. Several nuclear power projects have been proposed and an attempt to build several plants failed due to lack of governmental financial guarantees, economic circumstances and political conflicts.
This time, the governing party AKP (Justice and Development Party) appears determined to get nuclear power up and running. Turkey is very much dependent on neighboring countries for oil and natural gas.
Almost 60 percent of demand is met by oil and gas bought, according to Energy Minister Taner Yildiz. “Nuclear energy is priority for Turkey right now. We plan to sign an agreement pertaining to the second and third power plants.” he said during the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum last year.