On 8 January, the editors of Asahi Shimbun wrote an oped claiming that at Ankara’s request, the Japan-Turkey nuclear cooperation agreement “contains a provision that would enable Turkey to eventually enrich uranium and extract plutonium by reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. But this could be problematic because the technologies for uranium enrichment and plutonium extraction can lead to the production of nuclear weapons. In this matter, the international community has been acting with extreme caution.”
The oped – which appears to be a political hit job on the Japanese nuclear industry – was wrong. The text of the nuclear cooperation agreement was released today and, unsurprisingly, it contains a virtual Japanese veto over the altering of spent fuel rods. Article 8 states, “Nuclear material transferred pursuant to this Agreement and nuclear material recovered or produced as a by-product may be enriched or reprocessed within the jurisdiction of the Republic of Turkey, only if the Parties agree in writing.”
The agreement uses very standard language and is not all that different from Turkey’s nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States. However, like with almost every story about Turkey’s nuclear program I read, the authors fail to point out very legitimate questions about the future of the program. I have listed what I think are the 5 most important issues for the Akkuyu and Sinop nuclear power plants below.
- Financing – Rosatom is eager to offload a 49% ownership stake in the Akkuyu project. They have approached EDF, but the French company did not express any interest. According to Nuclear Intelligence Weekly, “Russia is hoping to see Ankara provide both tax incentives and guarantees of a long-term price for power output from its four planned VVER-1200 reactors at Akkuyu” … Rosatom is specifically looking to negotiate a power purchasing arrangement (PPA) that will “contractually lock in detailed commercial terms that weren’t specified by the 2010 Russia-Turkey intergovernmental agreement.” Moving forward, how will Rosatom’s changes to the proposed PPA effect the construction timeline? (One must keep in mind that the longer the project is delayed, the more money the vendor will have to pay in interest payments. The BOO format pushes all of the financing responsibility on to the vendor.) As Rosatom’s budget continues to be consumed with its obligations to the Akkuyu project, how will the company continue to find funding for other foreign builds? And, given the difficulties, will Rosatom ever duplicate the BOO financing model again?
- Delays – For the Akkuyu project, TAEK has cancelled the tender to select a foreign company to review the VVER-1200’s construction documents 4 times. When will TAEK select a vendor? And, when will the first reactor come online?
- Spent fuel – Where will Turkey store spent fuel from the Sinop site? Japan does not take back spent fuel, which means Ankara will have to make arrangements to store the fuel in Turkey. The most logical answer would be for dry-cask storage at the reactor site. The casks would then have to be stored in a geological repository built, I assume, near the Adana area. Who will pay for this? And, does Turkey have the expertise to oversee spent fuel disposal? If not, who will provide this service for Turkey? Was the cost assessment included in the figures released to the public, or have those costs been deferred?
- Site security – Will the spent fuel pond have the same type of dome as the reactor? What precautions has Turkey taken against cyber attack? Does TAEK have the capability to respond to a nuclear incident?
- TAEK’s independence – The Turkish nuclear regulatory is under the auspices of the Prime Ministry. It is tasked with overseeing the negotiations with suppliers and the inspection of the reactor during construction and operation for safety. The arrangement is one giant conflict of interest. Will the Prime Minister interfere in the process once the extent of the project delays become public?