President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin vowed Wednesday to further strengthen cooperation as they launched the construction of the third reactor at Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.
The two leaders unveiled the new phase of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) project in a groundbreaking ceremony which they attended from their offices in Ankara and Moscow.
The plant marks another major joint energy project that the leaders said symbolizes a deep partnership between the two countries.
Erdoğan said the plant would launch Turkey into the "league of nuclear energy countries" and called it a "symbol of Turkish-Russian cooperation."
Putin called the nuclear plant a "truly flagship project."
Russia's state nuclear energy firm Rosatom is building the plant on the Mediterranean coast in the southern Mersin province. The two countries signed a cooperation agreement in 2010 and began the construction in 2018.
The decision to include nuclear power in the national energy infrastructure is a strategic step toward energy supply security, Erdoğan noted.
"We will be placing Turkey in the league of countries with nuclear energy by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the founding of our Republic," the president noted, referring to the year when the plant’s first unit, out of a total of four, is scheduled to become operational.
Putin said he expects the project to “improve the Russian-Turkish partnership in all its facets, helping strengthen friendship and mutual understanding between our countries’ peoples.”
Erdoğan echoed similar thoughts.
"The close dialogue that we established with my esteemed friend (Putin) is playing a key role not only in bilateral relations but also in preserving regional peace and stability," Erdoğan said.
"We had the opportunity to see the results of the Turkish-Russian dialogue in the field. We are committed to advancing this cooperation in the coming period," he added.
Saying that the Turkish-Russian project marks the start of a new era, Putin said it would significantly contribute to Turkey’s energy security and further strengthen its economy.
Turkey in November granted a construction license for the third unit of the plant.
All the remaining three units are due to start operation by the end of 2026, at a rate of one per year to ultimately have a total installed capacity of 4,800 megawatts (MW). The construction of the second unit started in June last year.
The groundbreaking ceremony of the fourth reactor will be realized next year, Erdoğan said.
Once completed, the plant is expected to produce 35 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually and will fulfill about 10% of domestic electricity needs, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Dönmez said.
"We are equipping our Akkuyu plant with the most advanced safety systems while paying attention to its compliance with International Atomic Energy Agency standards," Erdoğan said.
The plant, which will have an estimated service life of 60 years with an extension of another 20 years, will produce carbon-free energy around the clock.
As a baseload plant, it will play a leading role in reducing dependence on imported energy resources, especially natural gas.
Addressing lawmakers from his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in Parliament earlier in the day, Erdoğan dubbed the plant as one of the important investments in the energy field, saying that some groups have constantly opposed the idea of building nuclear power plants in the country.
"The main strategic dimension of this project is that it will diversify the resources to meet Turkey’s energy need. In addition, it is very important to be among the countries with nuclear technology in the world," he added.
The total amount of investment in the plant has been calculated as $20 billion (TL 148.5 billion).
The giant project is expected to employ around 15,000 people during its peak construction period, and about 4,000 people during its operations.
Some 186 Turkish engineers that will be working in the plant have so far completed their training in Russia, with 58 students due to complete their training in 2022.
Students in the nuclear energy training program receive 6 1/2 years of training at the Moscow Institute of Nuclear Physics and Engineering (MEPhl) campuses, known as the heart of nuclear energy, in Moscow and Obninsk, a city home to the world’s first nuclear electricity plant.
Some 27.5% of the plant is aimed to be completed by the end of this year, according to the 2021 Performance Program of the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry.
Around 16.25% of the plant, including construction, permits, licenses and approvals, was completed at the end of last year. This compares very favorably with the forecast of last year's program, which estimated progress at less than half of the figure, at 8%.
Under this year’s performance program, while the estimated completion rate for 2022 is determined as 41.25%, project progress of 56.25% is expected in 2023.