The Mersin Akkuyu project undertaken with Russia is Turkey’s sole concrete ‘nuclear energy game’ in town. This does not mean that the Akkuyu project will have a smooth path towards the 2023 target and beyond. The government presents nuclear energy as cheap, sustainable and environmentally friendly. It is also portrayed by many as a powerful way to diversify the country’s energy portfolio while at the same time reducing energy dependence and spilling over to the civilian economy.
There are many good reasons to acquire nuclear energy for a dynamic emerging economy like Turkey. It should be judged not only based on fulfilling Turkey’s future energy demand and creating a balanced energy mix, but also facilitating rapid development in other sectors through advanced technology and knowledge diffusion.
Fossil fuels dependence kept energy costs high, turned the trade balance to Turkey’s disadvantage and constrained its diplomatic negotiating power. Renewables, though impressively on the rise, are still insufficient to make up the gap. In addition, a nuclear energy program is seen as a matter of prestige.
From a strictly climate change perspective, nuclear power brings significant improvement over conventional coal-burning or natural gas-fired power plants. A nuclear plant does not directly produce greenhouse gas emissions (unless it is running idle, being refueled or operating on backup generators), and it emits about one-tenth to one-twentieth the carbon dioxide emissions over the course of its lifecycle as compared with a comparatively sized conventional, fossil-fueled power plant.
This project also reflects the historic ties of industrial collaboration and joint ventures in heavy industries since the early years of the republic. It is part and parcel of the current partnership between the two countries encompassing trade, investment flows, defense procurement, construction, energy trade, tourism and geopolitical bargains over the Black Sea, Caspian, east Mediterranean, Iraq and Syria.