Surveys Cast Doubt on Safety of Turkey Plant Site

By Menelaos Hadjicostis

TORONTO (Cyprus News Agency)–Claims by Canada’s nuclear reactor maker that Turkey’s proposed nuclear plant site is earthquake-free are cast into doubt by geological surveys which indicate that the site is seismically very active–a new report concludes.

The report–prepared by renowned Canadian seismologist Dr. Karl Buckthought–also concludes that should a Canadian designed and built CANDU reactor be constructed by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. at the Akkuyu Bay site–on Turkey’s southern coast–the probability of damage due to an earthquake is at least 50 per cent over the 40-year life of the reactor.

"Turkey is one of the most earthquake prone regions in the world. Hence–the AECL proposal to sell two CANDU reactors to Turkey incurs the serious risk of a Chernobyl-type catastrophe affecting the lives of millions of people in Turkey–Cyprus–Greece and Israel," the report states.

AECL has bid to build two 700 Megawatt CANDU reactors at Akkuyu Bay–located on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.

Two other vendors have also bid to construct the 100 percent financed nuclear power station–namely the French-German consortium Nuclear Power International and the consortium composed of Westinghouse of the US and of Mitsubishi of Japan. It is believed that the AECL bid–reportedly at 2.6 billion US dollars–is the front-runner among the three vendors.

The selection of a vendor has been delayed several times over the previous year and an announcement is expected at any time.

However–it is possible that the selection could be delayed until after the Turkish national election this April.

In his report–Dr. Buckthought–who is president of Earthquake Forecasts–Inc.–refutes AECL’s claims that the Akkuyu site is located in a relatively inactive seismic region.

AECL spokesman Larry Shewchuk told CNA that geological and seismological investigations carried out over the past 20 years support AECL’s own research–which indicates that there is no evidence of an active geological fault in the vicinity of the Akkuyu site and that the most active earthquake zones are located in eastern and western Turkey–150 kilometres from the Akkuyu site.

However–Dr. Buckthought’s report notes that geological surveys conducted by five Turkish and British scientists along Turkey’s south Mediterranean coast in 1988 and 1989–indicate that the Akkuyu Bay region is seismically highly active.

"The Ecemis Fault–which is active–runs very close to Akkuyu Bay. The fault is a long one–long enough to have the potential for an eight Richter earthquake," the report says.

The report also refers to the database of the US Geological Survey’s National Earthquake Information Centre–which reveals that within the last 26 years–nine quakes occurred within 60 kilometres of Akkuyu Bay–three within 15 kilometres–and one within five kilometres.

"Although these were small events–they are significant in showing considerable activity for a 26-year period," the report notes.

Shewchuk also said that the AECL’s design bid is to build a CANDU that will withstand a magnitude 8.0 earthquake 60 kilometres from the site.

"All CANDU plants–including those overseas–are built to Canadian standards and specification–which are among the most stringent in the world," he said.

But in the report–Dr. Buckthought points out that there is evidence of major earthquakes in antiquity near the Akkuyu site which have not been taken into the AECL study and that "a recurrence of the most severe of these would result in a total disaster–greatly exceeding the design standard proposed by the AECL experts."

Although Dr. Buckthought concedes that no major earthquakes have occurred near Akkuyu Bay in recent years–he does note the possibility that a "seismic gap" exists at the end of Ecemis Fault–which is closest to Akkuyu Bay.

According to Dr. Buckthought–a "seismic gap" means that "stress at the boundary of two tectonic plates is gradually building up and will result in a major quake in time."

On his part–Shewchuk said that the 6.3 magnitude earthquake which hit Adana–Turkey–in late June of last year and was about 180 kilometres away from the Akkuyu site–was "well within the magnitude of earthquakes used as a design basis" for the Akkuyu CANDU power plant.

"Neither the structure nor the safety and safety-related systems of a CANDU plant would have been damaged had it been operating at Akkuyu at the time of the earthquake at Adana. The plant would continue to operate safely under these conditions with no risk to the public and the environment," he said.

Dr. Buckthought notes–however–that there is "not enough experience available to ensure that any nuclear plant design will stand up to a major quake."

He goes further to say that should the CANDU reactor’s cooling system fail as a result of earthquake damage–the consequence would be "a cloud of maiming and lethal radioactivity" that would affect the people of Turkey and neighbouring countries–including Cyprus–Greece and Israel.

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