Anti-nuclear power plant activists turn to Turkey’s highest court

Turkish environmentalists are deeply concerned about the ongoing construction of the country’s first nuclear power plant and plan to bring their case to Turkey’s highest court.

In the past year, environmental groups have brought up many legal cases against the plant, which is being built in Akkuyu, near Mersin, on the Mediterranean coast. Scientists have argued that the plant will adversely impact the regional ecology and economy, undermining the livelihoods of people who rely on the marine ecosystem and tourism.

Last month, an appeals court upheld a local court’s decision to accept the Turkish government’s environmental impact assessment, even though several news reports said some scientists’ signatures on the report were forged.

Following the appeals court's decision, environmentalists say they plan to petition the Constitutional Court. Sevim Küçük, a lawyer and vocal member of the Mersin Anti-Nuclear Platform, believes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan influenced the appeals court's decision.

"The president issued instructions to speed up the work one day before the hearing at the appeals court," she said. "The judiciary was pressured by the executive. As a result, we were not expecting a just decision."

Küçük says their appeal to the Constitutional Court does not automatically indicate a motion to stay. Plant construction, which began in April 2018 with a ceremony attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdoğan via video conference, is expected to continue during the proceedings. "Lower courts did not issue a motion to stay either, so the construction was continuing during all our legal battles as well," says Küçük.

Küçük says that government assessment is out of line with scientific evidence and based on falsified expert reports. She believes the report was copy-pasted from falsified expert reports, and that the court, in its decision, copy-pasted the same reports as well.

A key concern of the environmental group is the storage of nuclear waste, which the assessment does not adequately address. "While Europe, Japan, America are trying to close down their nuclear power plants, why is our government so determined to build one?” asks Küçük. “As locals we are worried that the plant will store its nuclear waste in our neighbourhoods.”

Dr. Ful Uğurhan, another member of the anti-nuclear group, says that

The location of Akkuyu is not suited to build a nuclear power plant, argues Ful Uğurhan, another member of the anti-nuclear group. Uğurhan says that the seawater temperatures in Akkuyu are high, which not only means spending more energy to cool down the reactors, but the process will further increase the seawater temperatures and upset the ecological balance.

An active geological fault line near Akkuyu means additional risk.

"Considering the effects of global climate change, it’s not safe to build a nuclear power plant anywhere,” says Uğurhan. “Storms, earthquakes, tsunamis all increase the risk involved in building a nuclear power plant, instead of ecologically safe electricity production plants."

The Akkuyu area, chosen for its relatively low risk of powerful earthquakes, experienced a quake with a 5.2 on the Richter scale, in July 2015. The report says the power plant will be built to withstand an earthquake with a Richter scale measurement of 6.5.

"I'm not saying this place is Turkey's riskiest location for building a nuclear power plant, but this region needs to be explored more," says Sinan Özeren, a lecturer at Istanbul Technical University’s Institute of Earth Sciences.

In their review of the assessment report, Özeren, Professor Celal Şengör and Ali Özbakır conclude that the impacts on the plant of a powerful earthquake in Cyprus have not been adequately studied, pointing to the risk of a tsunami resulting from a break in the Hellenic trench of the Aegean fault line.

Özeren says the ÇED report is lacking in detail and that the government needs to do more long-term seismological studies before proceeding. "There are many sources of a tsunami in the Eastern Mediterranean: the southern part of Cyprus as well as south of Crete," says Özeren. "It is wrong to think the region is risk-free because of low earthquake activity. There might be a major earthquake in southern Cyprus, and the Turkish coast will be directly affected by it."

Cyprus, which is 85 kilometres away from Akkuyu, has been protesting the plant and passed a parliamentary resolution urging the European Union to put more pressure on Turkey.

On Oct. 11, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) expressed “concern” about the construction of the Akkuyu plant because of its location in an earthquake-prone region. PACE asked the Turkish government to take the concerns of Turkish citizens and neighbouring countries  into account and invited Turkey to join an international agreement on environmental impact assessment.

Efe Baysal, the Turkey campaigner for environmental group 350.org, believes the Turkish government intends to turn Turkey into a regional energy hub via oil pipelines, overproduction of lignite deposits, shale gas exploration, and nuclear power. Baysal argues that Turkey's official development plans overestimate Turkey’s energy needs and capabilities.

"An ecology-based strategy, energy efficiency, and community-oriented renewable projects should be on all Turkish citizens' agenda, not just that of environmentalists,” she says. “The kind of country and world that we want to live in is closely related to the energy projects that we are undertaking today.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.