Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently visited Istanbul to mark the opening of the Marmaray, a mammoth tunneling project connecting Europe with Asia beneath the waters of the Bosphorus. Constructed at a cost of more than $4 billion, the project is an iconic example of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s grand vision for Turkey. More ambitious still is Erdogan’s plan to build an extensive nuclear power program, virtually overnight, in a country that currently has no nuclear power plants. The prime minister hopes to have two nuclear power plants, with four reactors each, online in time for the Turkish Republic’s 2023 centennial.
During Abe’s visit, the two countries signed a joint declaration on nuclear energy cooperation (.pdf), and announced an agreement between Turkey and the Franco-Japanese joint venture ATMEA that brings both parties closer to signing a deal for the construction of four 1,200-megawatt reactors at Sinop. Turkey previously concluded an intergovernmental agreement with Russia in 2010 for that country to build, own, operate and finance four VVER-1200 power reactors at Akkuyu.
Yet Turkey’s reach likely exceeds its grasp. Although Ankara has good reason to consider nuclear power, its history of aborted nuclear power projects and failure to learn from past mistakes are likely to delay significantly or prevent altogether the realization of both the Akkuyu and Sinop projects. The historical and contemporary context for Turkey’s program helps illustrate why.