15 11 2007 - Turkey to Join Nuclear Club
|Tuesday , 13 November 2007
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Turkey has taken a major step to join the "peaceful nuclear club" approving a law that set the gudelines to set up a nuclear power industry. But experts say this may have militrary dividends in the future...
Overriding stiff objections from environmentalists and opposition parties, the Turkish parliament has passed a bill fixing the legal framework for the country's first nuclear power plants.
Legislators amended several technical provisions in the original draft, which former president Ahmet Necdet Sezer had vetoed in May. The legislation authorizes the Energy Ministry to run and finalize tenders for the construction of nuclear power plants and decide on their capacity and location.
It also provides for public institutions to build the plants if there is no interest from the private sector.
The bill now needs the approval of President Abdullah Gul, who took office in August.
Turkey has said it plans to build three nuclear plants with a total capacity of about 5,000 megawatts to become operational in 2012 in a bid to prevent a possible energy shortage and reduce dependence on foreign energy supplies.
The law, which was approved by lawmakers, stipulates that companies willing to establish and run a nuclear power plant must meet the requirements set down by Turkish Atomic Energy Agency (TAEK).
After passage of the law, Turkish Electricity Trade & Contract Corporation (TETAS) will open a tender for construction of nuclear power plants.
The companies willing to bid for the tender are not required to have licence, which will be issued after winning the tender and before the start of the project.
In accordance with the law, TETAS will buy all the energy produced in nuclear power plants.
This is Ankara's fifth attempt at launching a nuclear program. Most of the previous efforts failed on environmental grounds (most of Turkey lies in seismically active zones), but this attempt is likely to succeed because Turkey's world has changed greatly of late -- and Turkey is changing with it.
Energy experts say until the end of the Cold War, Turkey simply did not need a nuclear program. Nuclear power did not compete well on a price basis with oil and natural gas -- resources that Turkey had in relative abundance compared with its energy needs up until the 1980s. And there was certainly no pressure for a nuclear weapons program so long as Ankara, a NATO member, could benefit from the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
Experts say in the 1990s, Turkey's energy demand shot up as its domestic petroleum output fell. Alternative sources of natural gas are available from Russia and Iran, but these come with political and strategic strings attached. Add in oil prices that are pushing $100 per barrel, and suddenly nuclear power plants make a great deal of economic and strategic sense.
Experts point out that unlike most states in the region, Turkey can grasp the technical complexities of advanced engineering. Turkey's imperial past and its close association with the United States and Europe have blessed it with a large cadre of experienced engineers and scientists in a variety of fields. Whereas Egypt had to turn to the Soviet Union to construct the Aswan High Dam, the Turks constructed dozens of similar structures as part of the Grand Anatolia Project without significant outside assistance. Turkish know-how likely will be just as useful in the case of nuclear physics (although the 2012 time frame might be a bit ambitious).
There is more at stake here than simply energy issues, however. U.S. activities in Iraq, combined with the European Union's reluctance on Turkey's membership bid, has given the Turks second thoughts about the inviolability of the country's membership in the NATO alliance. And of course, Iran's nuclear activities are forcing Turkish strategic thinkers to do the math about a potential conflict with a nuclear-armed Tehran. Observers say these factors have raised the quiet question about whether Turkey should pursue a nuclear weapons program.
Turkish officials vehemently deny suggestions that Turkey is about to launch such a program, clandestine or otherwise. But foreign observers say Turks coming to grips with a series of strategic evolutions in their front yard will give them expertise that could be used in a future weapons program. Foreigbn experts say there is nothing about Turkey's efforts to develop a civilian power program that is barred by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and Turkey will not follow the Iranian path of secrecy.
But they stress that put another way, Turkey's planning ahead to keep its energy options open will have the side effect of keeping its military options open.
NEWS ANALYSIS The New Anatolian / Ankara
12 November 2007
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