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The influence of Russia’s nuclear industry steadily expanding in Turkey

Observers note increased Russian influence despite sanctions over the Ukraine invasion

akkuyu.com
A ceremony held at the Akkuyu NPP construction site for the delivery of the first batch of Russian nuclear fuel, April 28, 2023.

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Turkey’s decision last month that Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom will build the country’s second nuclear power plant, most likely at a site called Sinop, is the latest step by Russia to increase its global nuclear footprint as geopolitical tensions remain at dangerous levels with the European Union and the United States.

“Turkey’s further engagement with Rosatom, marking the construction of its second Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), raises eyebrows, given the broader geopolitical context and the less-than-profitable nature of such projects funded by Russia,” Tatiana Mitrova, a research fellow at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, told NE Global on April 5. She added that the decision, announced by Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev and endorsed by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for Rosatom to develop a new site in Sinop, shifts focus from a previous agreement with Japan that was abandoned in 2018.

“While the first unit of the Akkuyu NPP is slated for operation in July 2025, this and the new project in Sinop reflect a deeper Russian influence in Turkey, a country of significant geopolitical interest to Russia, especially considering the ongoing conflict in Ukraine,” Mitrova argued, noting that the expansion of nuclear power in Turkey, facilitated by Russian investment, seems less about energy security and more about Russia cementing its foothold in a strategic NATO member state.

Turkey already faces bilateral U.S. sanctions on its defense industrial sector for purchasing Russian S-400 air defense missiles. Its refusal to adopt western sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine leaves it vulnerable to new secondary sanctions measures at any time such as those currently being applied, quietly, to its financial sector.

Subsidiaries of Rosatom are constructing the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant in Mersin province on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coastline. Akkuyu NPP is the first nuclear power plant in Turkey and currently the largest nuclear construction project in the world.

Installation of Akkuyu NPP Unit No. 1 containment by Russia’s Rosatom in Turkey. Photo: ROSATOM

Four power units with VVER-1200 Generation III+ reactors with a total capacity of 4,800 MW are being constructed simultaneously. The estimated service life of the NPP is 60 years, which can be further extended by another 20 years.

At the world’s first high-level Nuclear Energy Summit in Brussels on March 22, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Hakan Fidan said the inaugural summit at the European capital constitutes a turning point concerning the future of civil nuclear energy. “Once fully operational the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant will meet 10 percent of our electricity demand,” he said, adding that Turkey’s objective is to raise this level by building additional conventional plants as well as small modular reactors.

Meanwhile, Rosatom is the main sponsor at the Nuclear Power Plants Expo & Summit (NPPES 2024) in Istanbul on July 2-3. Mitrova argued that the NPPES summit might offer a platform for discussing nuclear advancements, but it also underscores the intricacies of Turkey’s energy diplomacy.

“As Turkey navigates its energy future and international alliances, the benefits of its nuclear engagements with Russia deserve a closer, more critical examination, considering the potential for increased dependency and influence at the expense of profitability and true energy independence,” she said.

Rosatom keen on expanding in Central Asia

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan also participated in the Nuclear Energy Summit in Belgium on March 22. Mitrova said, Russia, keen on expanding its nuclear industry footprint, is poised to supply both funding and technology to projects in Central Asia. “Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear industry flagship, has initiated projects in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, where discussions about building the first NPP have stirred public debate over safety and profitability,” she said on March 27.

Despite potential collaborations with France, South Korea, and China, Russia’s involvement remains highly probable, she argued, adding, “Given the current geopolitical climate, this growing dependency on Russia raises concerns in the West regarding energy security and political leverage.”

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Co-founder / Director of Energy & Climate Policy and Security at NE Global Media

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