Russian engineers to switch on Turkey’s first nuclear plant within a year

Russian engineers to switch on Turkey’s first nuclear plant within a year
Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan participating in a video link during a March 2021 foundation-laying ceremony. / Turkish Presidency.
By bne IntelliNews May 30, 2024

The delayed commissioning of the first unit at Turkey’s first nuclear power plant (NPP), built by Russia’s Rosatom, is reportedly expected in April 2025.

Ankara originally sought an Akkuyu NPP launch that would coincide with last October’s celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey, but the construction of the $20bn facility by the Russian state nuclear corporation fell behind schedule. A successful Akkuyu start-up is important to Rosatom’s marketing of its prowess to an expanding client list—only this week, Uzbekistan signed up for a 330-MW NPP,  based on six small modular reactors (SMRs), expected to be Central Asia’s first nuclear power facility.

Anticipating that the first of four units of the plant on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast in Mersin province will go live just under a year from now, Denis Sezemin, director for construction & organisation of production at project company Akkuyu Nukleer, was on May 29 cited by Nuclear Engineering International as saying that commissioning processes were under way.

“According to the inter-governmental agreement [between Turkey and Russia], we have seven years [before the start of commercial operation]. We received a construction licence for unit 1 in April 2018, so the date of its commissioning is presumably April 2025,” Sezemin was reported as saying. “At unit 1, most of the main construction and installation works have been completed, commissioning of all equipment and systems is under way.”

He added: “We are currently testing the start-up and adjustment of all equipment, systems, so that the plant can produce electricity for 60 years and the life of the plant can be extended safely for a further 20 years.”

Model of Akkuyu NPP (Credit: Akkuyu Nukleer A.S., VOA, public domain).

Akkuyu is to eventually host four 1,200-MW Russian-designed VVER-1200 reactors that will provide around 10% of Turkey’s electricity.

Russia and Turkey signed the agreement for the NPP in 2010. First concrete was poured for unit 1 in April 2018, for unit 2 in June 2020, for unit 3 in March 2021 and for unit 4 in July 2022.

Critics of the Akkuyu project have warned the NPP is being built in an earthquake zone.

Rosatom is constructing the reactors in line with a build-own-operate model that is the first in the world in an NPP deal. Some 93% of project financing is coming from a Rosatom unit. Turkey has been calculated to have an overall payment obligation of $35bn for the plant, making it the largest single project payment obligation in Turkish history.

Sezemin was also quoted as explaining that “an operation is being carried out to tension special steel cables for the reactor containment” and installation of the fuel loading machine was taking place.

All work on the NPP is checked by the Turkish Nuclear Regulatory Council and other organisations.

The fact that the first reactor of Akkuyu NPP was not ready for Turkey’s centennial celebrations was something of an embarrassment for the country’s Erdogan administration.

In April 2023, a couple of weeks ahead of presidential elections, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin celebrated, via video link, an Akkuyu “inauguration” ceremony—subsequently there were multiple media reports, including in international press, saying that the NPP had been launched, whereas in reality, the only development was the arrival of a first shipment of nuclear fuel at the construction site.