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Turkish nuclear plans on Mediterranean raise fears
ANKARA, TURKEY (AP) - Turkey plans to build a coastal nuclear power plant close to an earthquake-prone area, dismissing neighbors’ fears that Japan’s nuclear disaster shows that the new plant could be a risk to the whole Mediterranean region.
Greece and Cyprus say the move is a gamble that could cause catastrophe and want the European Union to scrutinize the EU candidate’s plan in a debate fraught with political and historical baggage. Turkish officials insist the plant is safe and necessary to keep the country’s strong economy going.
The EU is reassessing the whole 27-nation bloc’s energy policy and questioning the role of nuclear power on a continent where no one can forget that Ukraine’s 1986 Chernobyl disaster spewed radiation for thousands of miles (kilometers).
But Turkey is standing firmly by plans to build three nuclear power plants in the years ahead _ including one at Akkuyu on the Mediterranean coast, close to the Ecemis Fault, which an expert says could possibly generate a magnitude-7 quake.
“Nuclear power for us is not an option because we are in a highly seismically active region,” Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said in Brussels last week. “The EU will ask for stress tests to be carried out at existing and planned facilities in neighboring countries _ and we stressed the fact that Turkey is planning to build a nuclear site at Akkuyu.”
France has several plants not far from the Mediterranean, Turkey’s neighbors Armenia and Bulgaria already have them, and several countries around the sea have announced ambitions to build ones. Turkey’s plan, however, is drawing particular attention because of its temblors.
Akkuyu is 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of the island of Cyprus, which has been divided between ethnic Greeks and Turks since 1974, when Turkey invaded. Turkey says the 1,200-megawatt Russian pressurized water reactor, the VVER-1200 _ a new model yet to be operated anywhere in the world _ will be quake-proof and meets the highest nuclear safety standards.
“We are in an effort to realize everything in a plan with all security measures,” Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan said. “Turkey is becoming more powerful in industry and technology day by day. It is obvious that it will be in great need of power.”
Erdogan has repeatedly downplayed risks at nuclear power plants since a magnitude-9 quake off Japan’s northeastern coast triggered a March 11 tsunami that crippled the cooling systems of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. The plant has been spewing radioactivity ever since and officials admitted Saturday that highly radioactive water was leaking into the sea.
Erdogan says all investments have risks. “In that case, let’s not bring gas canisters to our homes, let’s not install natural gas, let’s not stream crude oil through our country,” he said a few days after the Fukushima accident.
“I wonder whether those who oppose nuclear energy do not use computers or watch television because of the radiation risk?” he added.
So far no country has reached a conclusion on the safety requirements for nuclear plants following the Fukushima accident, according to Mujid S. Kazimi, director of the Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“But the lesson from Fukushima is not only to withstand strong earthquakes, but also to prevent loss of electric power systems needed for decay heat removal,” Kazimi said in an email. “What is more important is to ensure that the complete loss of electric power will be avoided under the most severe expected external events.”
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