Turkish government signed a deal yesterday with Japan’s visiting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to build a second nuclear reactor on the Black Sea, to be followed by another three. This comes on the heels of an agreement with Russia in 2010 to build the first Turkish nuclear reactor on the southeastern Mediterranean coast.
The fanfare with which the Japanese PM arrived at Istanbul airport in his private 747 with Japanese and Turkish flags acquired a new meaning yesterday. After the opening ceremony for the Bosphorus Chunnel, built mostly by the Japanese, Shinzo Abe sat down to business with his Turkish counterpart Erdogan. Smiles indicated that both men were getting a good deal. Although details of the agreement are not yet fully clear, what is clear is that the energy-hungry Turkey will get cheap electricity on a Japanese “fire sale”, literally, while the Japanese are getting an opportunity to raise their nuclear industry from the dead, 2 days before Halloween.
As the Fukushima incident has shown, Japan certainly has the technology and the track record to build nuclear reactors in active earthquake zones, except for the ability to deal with worst-case scenarios. Radiation leak from Fukushima that the Japanese have never been able to contain fully is said to have contaminated the entire Northern Pacific right down to the North American West Coast. I was alerted to this when Alexandra, a journalist friend living in Istanbul, refused to touch a dish of delicious West Coast Salmon Sushi. She follows daily reports on Fukushima radiation and believes that the contamination of Pacific fish and wildlife is much worse than what the Japanese government would have the world believe.
For decades Turkey toyed with the idea of nuclear energy and things got really serious when Canada spent a couple of million dollars to peddle a CANDU reactor to the Turks as a leading contender for the project. Left-wing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit abandoned the idea in 1999 after seeing the devastation of the earthquake south of Istanbul. He said that nuclear energy just doesn’t feel right for an earthquake zone, an observation that the current PM Erdogan disagrees with. In 2010 he gave a Russian consortium the go-ahead to build a reactor near the southeastern port of Mersin. Under the agreement Russians will build it at their own expense and sell cheap electricity to Turkey.
Turkey’s first Japanese nuclear reactor is planned for the port city of Sinop on the Black Sea Coast where the U.S. military had been eavesdropping on Soviet communications during the Cold War. It’s about 300 miles away from Erzincan where a massive earthquake destroyed the city in 1939. Another earthquake took about 1000 lives in 1992. Further southeast the City of Van was badly damaged by an earthquake in October 2011 with a 3-figure death toll that some observers claimed was downplayed by the government. Like Western Turkey Eastern Anatolia also sits in the middle of tectonic plate activity.
Prime Minister Erdogan said yesterday that the Sinop reactor will be safe. He said nothing is without risk and some risks are unavoidable, like travelling in a car or airplane. In spite of all safety precautions, he said, cars and planes still crash but people don’t stop travelling by car and plane because of the risks. Mr. Erdogan has staked his political future on non-stop development and mega projects, for which he needs inexhaustible sources of cheap energy, and nuclear foots the bill. While there’s a moratorium on building nuclear reactors in North America and Western Europe, Germany and others are phasing them out, and the Japanese have closed down their own reactors, they are delighted to find a fearless new partner in a Kamikaze Ottoman Janissary. This is reminiscent of the 90’s when U.S. Government was peddling American cigarettes to Third World countries since most Americans stopped smoking.
There’s a Turkish proverb that’s appropriate for this occasion. “Everyone goes to Mersin while we go in the opposite direction.” With Allah’s help, Turks will be invincible to radiation too.