Rosatom reportedly reaching new deal to complete Turkish nuclear plant

akkuyu_NPP A mock up of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant in Turkey. (Source: Rosatom)

Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear corporation, is close to reaching an agreement for a new partner in a nuclear power plant it is building on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, according to Turkish media reports.

For the last year, Rosatom has claimed it would finish the $20 billion nuclear power plant in Akkuyu by itself, after a Turkish consortium called Cengiz-Kalyon-Kolin, which had initially agreed to finance 49 percent of the build, backed out in February 2018.

But now a new contractor called IC İçtaş has indicated that its willing to assume the slightly less than half stake in the plant to ensure that it gets built, the Turkish newspaper Habertürk reported late last week.

Whether the new deal will hold is not yet clear, as Turkish state media revealed few other details about it. But the financial agreement represents yet one more development in the rocky effort to keep the Rosatom-owned project alive.

The Russian nuclear corporation initially persuaded Turkey to build the Akkuyu plant in the early 2000s, when Ankara signed a memorandum of understanding with Moscow. At the time, however, the projected returns on the energy it would produce were too low for Ankara to finance its half of the bargain.

Rosatom them proposed to build the plant at its own expense, a plan by which Russia would have constructed, operated and owned the Akkuyu plant. But a downturn in the Russian economy saw funding for that effort dry up.

Then in 2017, the government in Ankara – whose authoritarian regime is on warm terms with Russia President Vladimir Putin – stepped back in with a promise to drum up investment, and declared the nuclear power plant a “national priority.”

Still, the terms didn’t appeal to its initial investor – the Cengiz-Kalyon-Kolin consortium – which subsequently left the project.

Now that IC İçtaş has come forward, these financial difficulties are apparently solved. But the rapid rotation of investors shows that Rosatom’s flagship project – the VVER-1200 reactor – is gaining only a fragile foothold in the corporations international market.

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

In 2011, efforts to corral investors behind a VVER-1200 at Baltic Nuclear Power plant, which was slated for the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, sputtered when investors from Poland fled the project. Further afield in South Africa, courts have stopped another multibillion dollar VVER-1200 project over allegations of corrupt dealings with the government in Johannesburg.

In neighboring Belarus, a VVER-1200 construction project has been skewered by the governments of Lithuania and Poland after a series of potentially catastrophic mishaps at its construction site. At one point, workers dropped the reactor’s 330-ton pressure vessel, and Rosatom was forced to replace it. Ironically, the dropped vessel had initially been built for the defunct VVER-1200 project in Kaliningrad.

Rosatom has meanwhile papered much of the globe with its memorandums of understanding to build the VVER-1200, signing deals with countries as disparate as Ethiopia, Jordan, Algeria, Nigeria and Bolivia – many of which won’t have the infrastructure for nuclear power for decades.

In the end, that lack of infrastructure may be a stroke of luck because at home, the VVER-1200 has proved to be a dicey product – something Rosatom has worked to hush up.

After Russia’s very first VVER-1200 reactor went into service at the Novovoronezh nuclear plant, it was shut down for two and a half months after it short-circuited.  Rosatom kept the breakdown under wraps, but worried locals went to the press suggesting more was afoot than just a mechanical failure.

Rosatom was eventually forced to respond to the hysteria, but in doing so revealed that the prototype of the VVER-1200 contained a cooling system flaw. This prompted what Rosatom termed a series of  “modernizations,” which it undertook at three other VVER-1200s it was building within Russia – one at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant, the one in Belarus, and at a second VVER-1200 under construction at Novovoronezh.

It’s still unclear whether these modernizations apply in Hungary, where Russia is building two VVER-1200s at the Paks II nuclear power plant – reactors financed by a €12 billion loan from Russian taxpayers.