Since the downing of the Russian aircraft over Turkey last month, the countries' joint energy mega-projects are uncertain. While most of the energy-news about this emerging conflict has focused on Southstream, another important energy agreement which may be on the rocks is the one in which Moscow promised to pay for and build Turkey's first nuclear power plant in exchange for the rights to sell the electricity at guaranteed prices. The agreement is the first of its kind (Build-Own-Operate) for nuclear energy in the world and important not only for Russia and Turkey but for the global energy landscape.
For Russia, this is the first serious attempt to export its nuclear power technology to a Newcomer country beyond the former soviet block. Rosatom, Russia's nuclear power company has global ambitions and is currently trying to also support Belarus, Egypt, Jordan, Bangladesh, and Vietnam (among others) to start their own nuclear power programs. Thus Russia's potential client countries will likely keep a keen eye on how the Turkish plans play out in the wake of tensions.
For Turkey, this is a culmination of a sixty year-old nuclear energy dream which has yet not resulted in a single plant on the ground as we recently show in a recent article in Energy Research and Social Science. It's ironic that one of Ankara's main justifications for the Russian nuclear power plant is to diversify away from imported Russian gas. But it also shows Turkey's attempt to overcome the past problems which have plagued its ambitions, namely the unwillingness of nuclear vendors and investors to engage in a politically-volatile context.
Now this unique nuclear project is being put to the test. Will Russia push ahead with the project unfazed by its diplomatic spat or will the Kremlin halt construction? At this point there are conflicting reports as to whether or not construction at Akkuyu has stopped.
Moscow has been clear that the future of this project lies with the Kremlin. Russia has yet to turn off the gas tap to Europe even in the face of recent EU sanctions. But nuclear power requires much closer cooperation than gas supplies. In fact the nuclear deal between the two countries contains provisions to bring Turkish students to Russia to be trained as nuclear engineers. Can such close cooperation survive in the face of diplomatic tensions? And if not what does it mean for the future of global nuclear power which is likely to rely on this type of cooperation?