Over the past few weeks plans for Turkey’s first nuclear power at Akkuyu on the Mediterranean coast have been at the mercy of both national and international politics, as threats to cancel the project with Russia were followed by statements of support for the plant.

On 16 November, Turkish energy minister, Ali Riza Alaboyun, told Reuters that Turkey would speed up work to overcome regulatory hurdles, which have delayed the project, adding that it was still scheduled for start up in 2022. The plant had faced delays because of environmental concerns and political turmoil.

Russia and Turkey signed an agreement to construct and operate Akkuyu in May 2010. Ankara commissioned Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom to build, own and operate the plant in 2013. The Turkish Ecology Ministry approved the $20bn project last December. The plant includes four 1200MWe VVER pressurised water reactors. The plant cornerstone was laid in April this year and construction is scheduled to begin in late 2016.

According to Fuad Akhundov, general manager of project company Akkuyu NGS, the company has so far invested $3bn in the project and has secured funding until 2017. The company has applied for the required construction permits from the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority (TAEK), but receipt of these licences may take 1.5-2 years, according to officials. However, Akkuyu NGS has continued to work including contracting for equipment such as turbines. Akhundov said the costs of any delays in the project will be met by Russia.

However, in early October, after Russia’s decision to undertake air attacks against ISIS in Syria, the project seemed to be at risk of cancellation. Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan threatened to stop nuclear and gas projects with Russia, saying there were other places Turkey could get natural gas and other countries that could build its first nuclear plant. Then, ten days later, Alaboyun said Erdogan’s remarks had been "misinterpreted" and Turkey had "no issues with Moscow about energy."

A month later he said Russia was among Turkey’s best partners in the field of energy. "Russia is one of Turkey’s best partners. For instance, Russia is a good supplier of natural gas for us. We hope Turkish and Russian firms cooperate in energy and all other sectors," he said. He stressed the reliability of Russia’s project to construct the Akkuyu plant and said it will serve as a model for the entire country and foster a positive attitude toward nuclear energy use.

"The uncertainty after the 7 June election prevented us from smoothing out the issues. But the work will begin again from next week and the legal hurdles will be addressed once the new government is formed," Alaboyun said on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in the southern coastal province of Antalya.

Alaboyun’s comments came after a meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Erdogan at the summit. Discussions also included the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project, which remains uncertain.

Meanwhile a meeting on design and construction of sea hydraulic structures (SHS) for Akkuyu has been with Cengiz Insaat Sanayi ve Ticaret, which was selected as the SHS construction contractor. "The parties discussed: identification of design responsibility boundaries, modelling and identification of geometrical parameters of the distributing cooling water chamber, parameters of filtration and design parameters of the bulkhead, verification of the input data for design of sea hydraulic structures," Akkuyu Nuclear said on 11 November.

Akkuyu Nuclear deputy director for design Dmitry Litvinenko said surveys are under way under the contract for SHS design and construction. Construction of the sea hydraulic structures is planned for 2016.

Photo: Turkish energy minister vists the Akkuyu site in November