A divide Cyprus unites to oppose Russian-built nuclear plant

akkuyu A rendition of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant. Credit: Rosatom

Protestors from across the political divide in Cyprus staged a vocal demonstration last Thursday against a nuclear power plant Russia is building on Turkey’s Mediterranean coastline over fears that it could foul the environment.

The gathering – coinciding with the 32nd anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster – was staged to urge the ethnically-split Cyprus’ government and breakaway Turkish Cypriot authorities to step up their protests against the  Akkuyu nuclear power plant, a $20 billion deal inked between Turkey and Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom.

The plant has been the centerpiece of revitalized relations between Turkey and Moscow, and in early April, President Vladimir Putin went to Ankara to attended lavish kick-off ceremony marking the ceremonial beginning of its construction.

But the plant’s future is uncertain. In February, two of the  plant’s major Turkish investors, representing a 49 percent stake in deal, fled the project, citing fears over low returns on the energy it would produce. Rosatom subsequently announced it could shoulder the entire cost of the venture on its own, but it continues an uncertain search for capital.

Environmentalists have been leery of the project, both on ecological grounds, and because Ankara’s repressive regime is far from supportive of transparency as the financial aspects of the project are hammered out. Some have suggested that, should Rosatom’s hunt for investors turn up nil, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might just force domestic companies to provide funds.

That, say environmentalist, would be dangerous. The area where the plant is being built is seismically unstable.
The Cypriot protest was the latest sign of local dissatisfaction with Rosatom’s activities abroad. A similar deal in South Africa was derailed last year when that country’s high court found the government’s activities to secure the project were corrupt and lacked the appropriate level of transparency.

By contrast, Rosatom’s deals have received a warmer reception by more repressive regimes. The company’s $10 billion nuclear deal in Hungary, for instance, received approval after the nationalist Putin-friendly government of Viktor Orban lobbied the European Commission to allow the build to go forward. In Belarus, which has yet to separate from its Soviet past, protestors are routinely jailed for opposing a Rosatom-built nuclear power plant.

The protestors in Cyprus were less cowed. According to the Associated Press, some 250 Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot protesters linked arms across a 75-meter stretch of UN controlled buffer zone splitting the capital Nicosia during the protest

They then banged a drum emblazoned with the radiation hazard symbol and held a banner reading “No to nuclear power” in Greek, Turkish and English.Greek Cypriot Charalambos Theopemptou, a Greens Party lawmaker, said the Cyprus government should urge the European Union to take up the issue with Turkey which aims to join the bloc, the AP reported.

Greens Party leader George Perdikis said his party petitioned Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to pursue drafting a joint declaration against the plant with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, but without result.