Turkey Puts Nuclear Plant Plans On Indefinite Hold

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey announced on Tuesday it had indefinitely postponed plans to build its first nuclear power plant–saying the multi-billion-dollar project could throw the country’s IMF-backed anti-inflation plan off course.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit–ending three years of uncertainty since bids were first tendered–said Turkey might revive the project when finances were stabilized and technology had been improved.

“It would be wrong for us to abandon building a nuclear power plant but it would be right to delay it for a while and wait for new technology in this area,” Ecevit told reporters after a cabinet meeting in Ankara.

The decision–following eight postponemen’s that highlighted disarray in government–was welcomed by environmentalists. But it infuriated three consortia bidding for the $2.5-$4.5 billion plant at Akkuyu on the Mediterranean coast.

US Westinghouse Electric Co. (a unit of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd.)–Canada’s AECL and Franco-German Nuclear Power International (NPI) have dedicated considerable resources to the tender at a time when the tide is turning against nuclear energy in other countries.

Westinghouse and AECL officials said their consortia would consider seeking indemnities from the Turkish government to compensate for losses because of the cancellation.

“We have wasted energy–time and money on this tender. It is our right to demand them back,” said AECL’s Nedim Yuksel Yalcin.

“Government officials assured us when they first put out the tender years ago that this time Turkey was determined to complete it–but it just didn’t,” said Ray Odgers–a Westinghouse representative–referring to Turkey’s previously canceled two tenders in 1970s and 1980s.

Ecevit said the next generation of reactors might have a longer working lifespan and expressed hope for the future of nuclear fusion technology as a possible power generation option.

But representatives of the bidding consortia said the decision to scrap the tender could deter bidders from any future Turkish nuclear power project.

“From now on it is impossible for any US firm to take part in any Turkish nuclear project,” said Sukran Kose–another representative for Westinghouse. Ecevit also said that the cost of the plant could throw the country’s IMF-backed economic reform package off track.

“The cancellation of the Akkuyu tender does not mean we have abandoned nuclear energy–once the (economic) stability program has reached its aims–nuclear plants will come back onto the agenda,” he said.

Turkey’s treasury had refused to provide financing guarantees to the Akkuyu project–arguing the terms of Turkey’s three-year $4 billion stand-by accord with the International Monetary Fund forbid such large guarantees.

The IMF program aims to reform Turkey’s costly public sector–cut spending and reduce stubbornly high inflation.

Turkey’s energy authority TEAS first collected bids for the Akkuyu project in 1997. Since then it has been delayed eight times until finally being scrapped on Tuesday.

The project has also faced environmentalist opposition focusing on concerns that the planned site lay too close to active earthquake fault lines and that it might deter tourists from visiting Turkey’s Mediterranean coastline.

Ecevit said such concerns were unfounded.

Greenpeace welcomed the decision as opening the way for Turkey to explore alternative energy sources.

“Turkey’s billion-dollar nuclear investment plans have been a huge obstacle in delaying the adoption of clear–safe energy technologies,” the environmental organization said in a statement.

Turkey plans to increase imports of natural gas as a central way of meeting its rapidly growing power needs.

“As a country committed to large numbers of natural gas and hydro-electric power plants–like other OECD countries–it is presently unnecessary for us to direct ourselves to nuclear energy. It is undesirable economically,” Ecevit said.

He also cited a TEAS report saying most of the West had either slowed or stopped their nuclear energy programs.

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