Only Russians allowed in core of nuclear power plant in southern Turkey, says engineer

According to a statement by an engineer working in the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant in southern Turkey, only Russian engineers are allowed to operate the core of the Russian-built plant, contrary to claims by the Turkish government.

The project financed by Russia’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation will be the first nuclear power plant built in Turkey.

Duvar English

Hardly any Turkish engineers working in the Russian-built Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant in southern Turkey are allowed to enter the core of the plant, wrote journalist Can Ataklı in his column in daily Korkusuz on Oct. 1. 

Ahead of the meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Sept. 29, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials claimed Turkish employees had been trained in Russia to operate the plant.

An anonymous engineer of the plant however told journalist Ataklı that was untrue. He said that only Turkish engineers had been trained in Russia, not all employees, and regardless of their training none of those engineers were allowed in the core of the plant. 

Over the course of AKP tenure in Turkey, Russia and Turkey have had a tumultuous relationship. The two countries were on opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, and have at times opposed each other in the conflict in Libya.

In 2015, a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down a Russian Sukhoi S-24M attack aircraft near the Turkish border, leading to diplomatic disaster. However, since the Turkish coup attempt of July 2016 and the subsequent souring of relations between Turkey and the West, a tentative alliance has formed between the two countries. One of the flagship projects of this renewed alliance was the Russian-built Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant. At the meeting between Putin and Erdoğan, the two leaders discussed further collaboration, especially in security and defense. 

Before the AKP delegation went to Sochi to meet with Putin, Erdoğan said in a statement that 13,000 people were working in the plant, set to start operating in 2022 (full operation is expected by 2023). Some 10,000 of those were Turkish, he said, and they had all been sent to Russia for training.

The engineer interviewed by journalist Ataklı, however, countered this claim. According to him, only Turkish engineers, not all 10,000 employees, were sent to Russia for training. Further, despite that training, most Turkish engineers are not allowed in the core of the plant, where the reactor is -- in other words, they are not allowed in the most critical part of the plant. Only Russian engineers, with a few Turkish exceptions, are.

“The vast majority of the engineering staff is Russian,” he said. “Up to 2,000 Russian engineers will work in the core section of the power plant and we will not be able to go there.”

The plant engineer further emphasized that this contradicts AKP’s “Yerli, Milli” slogan - meaning “local, national” - which encourages goods and services to be produced domestically. With the setup at Akkuyu, the most critical part of the plant will be run by foreign nationals, not Turkish citizens.  

“When the power plant opens, there will only be Russians in the most critical part of the plant, with one or two of our compatriots,” the engineer said. “This means that Russians will have complete control of the plant. They always talk about ‘local and national,’ this power plant will never be local or national.”