NATO member Turkey is seeking a partnership with China to build a nuclear plant even as its first nuclear plant is under construction with Russian help.
Turkish Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar recently hinted that the talks with China for building a nuclear power plant were in the final stages.
The Middle East Eye reported that a deal could be signed in the next few months. Senior Chinese government officials reportedly visited eastern Thrace and the construction projects, according to Bayraktar.
Sources said the Chinese group that examined the area in Thrace included Vice Administrator He Yang of the National Energy Administration and Senior Vice President Lu Haongzao of the State Power Investment Corporation.
“We came to a crucial point that we need to finalize [the deal] in a few months,” Bayraktar said.
“There are some other interested parties, and we have already had enough negotiation for certain parts of the deal, and we are quite close to [a resolution]. I don’t think we have major differences. We can strike a deal soon with China for the nuclear power program.”
The development comes just two months after media reports indicated that Turkey was negotiating with China to build a third nuclear power plant and is scouting locations for a fourth. It was noted that Ankara plans to build its second nuclear plant in the northern province of Sinop and a third in the northwestern province of Kirklareli.
Turkey’s first nuclear power plant is being built with assistance from Russia’s Rosatom in the southern Turkish town of Akkuyu on the Mediterranean. This plant’s first reactor is expected to go online sometime in 2024.
Four reactors will be built as part of the US$20 billion, 4,800 MW Akkuyu project, allowing Turkey to join the select countries with access to civil nuclear energy.
In addition, Turkey is currently in talks with Russia and South Korea for a second set of four nuclear reactor power plants in Sinop, a northern city on the Black Sea. A Japanese-French consortium had already given up on ambitions to construct the project at this location.
As for the imminent deal with China, an informed corporate source told Nikkei Asia that “negotiations are progressing positively” and anticipated a bilateral agreement would be reached within a year. “If a deal is finalized, it will become the single largest investment of China abroad,” the source said.
This is one of the reasons why China has been negotiating for nearly ten years to build a four-reactor power facility at a third location in northwest Turkey. For the last few years, it has been promoting its CAP 1400 reactors developed by China’s State Power Investment Corp (SPIC).
If a deal is completed, it will represent Turkey’s friendships in all directions, especially amid heightened US-China tensions and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has changed the face of European security and intensified the existing fault lines between the West and its two biggest rivals.
Earlier, Sari Salih, director of nuclear infrastructure at the energy ministry, told a news conference in June that Turkey needs to produce slightly more than 11% of its electricity from nuclear sources by 2035 and 29% by 2053 to meet its climate goals. So, it seeks the most cost-effective and liberal options to advance its aims.
China, for one, has emerged as a global leader in new nuclear power plant construction. Moreover, it has also been expanding its footprint in the Middle-Eastern region, bringing huge capital and only a few restrictions. Nevertheless, this may widen the rift between the US-led NATO and Turkey in the face of existing tensions.
The Discomfort Between Turkey & NATO Lingers
In the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war, Turkey has been pulling off a balancing act between Russia and the NATO alliance, of which it is a part, while also putting forward its own political and security issues.
There has been some reconciliation between Turkey and the United States, which shows in the latter’s willingness to go ahead with the sale of F-16s that Ankara has been seeking since 2021. This decision was taken one day after Turkey approved Sweden’s membership to NATO after a long period of sitting on it.
However, the build-up of tensions between Sweden and Turkey has since posed trouble all over again. In response to Ankara’s worries, Stockholm modified its constitution and anti-terrorism regulations.
However, Turkey still insists that Sweden extradite or deport scores of Kurds for alleged affiliations with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, which has been at war with Turkey for nearly 40 years. PKK is regarded as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.
In addition to this, tensions between Ankara and Stockholm have grown due to a string of Quran-burning rallies and marches by Kurdish groups. A sizable Kurdish minority lives in Sweden. All these have given way to concern that Ankara may not be willing to ratify the accession in October as planned.
As for Tukey, accepting Sweden’s admission is also expected to help it override congressional opposition to its request to buy new F-16s and modernization kits from the US. However, a recent remark made by US President Joe Biden has created some trouble in the already fragile relationship.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan complained over the weekend that linking the F-16 fighter jet sales to Turkey with Turkish ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership bid by the Biden administration “seriously upsets” Ankara.
“If you say that Congress will decide (on sales of F-16s to Turkey), then we have a Congress in Turkey as well – it is the Turkish parliament,” Erdogan told reporters. “It is not possible for me to say ‘yes’ (to Sweden’s NATO membership bid) alone unless (our) parliament approves such a decision.”
Besides the differences in Sweden’s membership, it does not help that Turkish companies have been engaged with Russia’s defense industries. Recently, the US sanctioned five Turkish companies and one individual for repairing sanctioned Russian Defense Ministry vessels. This may not be a surprise, given that Turkey is already bearing the consequences of buying the S-400 from Russia.
With another US rival, China, entering the scene and helping Turkey build a nuclear power plant, there may be concerns that the rift between the two estranged partners and allies of NATO could widen further.