Plans to build several new nuclear power plants have come up against hefty protest in Turkey, which is still suffering the effects of the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown. Turkey's nuclear authority has lost its credibility.
This spring, Turkey's energy ministry called for bids for the construction of the country's first nuclear power plant, to be built in Akkuyu near Mersin on the Mediterranean Sea. Plans for a second plant in Sinop, on the Black Sea, are already in the works.
The project is facing considerable resistance in both places.
Many in Turkey are afraid of a meltdown similar to what happened in Chernobyl in April 1986. Turkey's Black Sea coast was completely contaminated by the fallout from the Ukrainian nuclear reactor. The Turkish authorities' lax approach to the radioactive danger only exacerbated the damage.
"The government told us we could eat and drink everything without worrying about it," said Sukru Dogan, a trader in Istanbul.
The responsible minister even drank a cup of tea on television and said that a little radiation never hurt anyone -- just to spare the next tea harvest. Then President Turgut Ozal claimed in all seriousness that radioactive tea tasted better, and local farmers were left in the lurch with their radioactive crops.
"What were we supposed to do, we had to eat something -- and everything was contaminated," said hazelnut farmer Gonul Erdern. Now all of her relatives have cancer, and the hospitals in the Black Sea region are overflowing with cancer patients.
After having been personally affected by the Chernobyl disaster, many Turks don't ever want to have anything to do with nuclear power.
Melda Keskin, the author of the most in-depth report on the effects of Chernobyl in Turkey, said the government itself was to blame for the people's attitude.
"If we had followed even the simplest precautionary measures, if we had just washed the tea, then people would have come into much less contact with radiation," she said.
Confidence in the Turkish nuclear energy authority is very low, though the body is to oversee the building of the country's new nuclear power plants. The first one in Akkuyu is scheduled to go online in five to six years, much to the chagrin of Turkish energy expert Ozgur Gurbuz.
There's no other agency on Earth that should be kept further away from a nuclear power plant than the Turkish nuclear energy authority, said Gurbuz.
Even without its own nuclear plant, the Turkish authority was implicated several years ago in a fatal accident. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had to get involved in the calamity, which occurred when cobalt intended for medical purposes landed in a junkyard.
"A government that can't keep 20 grams of atomic material under control now wants to build three nuclear power plants?" said Gurbuz.
Construction on the first plant in Akkuyu is slated to begin this year, if everything runs according to plan at the energy ministry.
The fact that Akkuyu is located in an earthquake-prone region is yet another reason for concern for the project's opponents. Just 10 years ago, a major earthquake occurred in nearby Adana.
The power plant will endanger not just Turkey, but the whole world, warned Gurbuz.
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