Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Failure to exploit capacity: Foresights into nuclear age

Failure to exploit capacity: Foresights into nuclear age

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

As Turkey prepares to go nuclear, a prominent energy analyst points to the country’s need to develop a domestic brain force on energy to reap the benefits of atomic power as well as other sources of energy

Mustafa Oğuz- ANKARA - Turkish Daily News

The Turkish Energy Ministry will declare criteria for the construction of Turkey's first nuclear power plant this Friday and bring Turkey one step closer to the world's nuclear league.

More than half a century has passed since the world's first nuclear power plant produced electricity for the national grid in Obninsk (outside Moscow) in 1954. But Turkey is still far away from acquiring this technology. Haluk Direskeneli, a prominent energy analyst in Turkey, warned on the one hand that Turkey must hurry to train its own nuclear scientists or be completely dependent on foreign expertise, in an exclusive interview with the Turkish Daily News. Direskeneli provided us with a dreadful picture of Turkey's current handling of its energy assets, in order to help evade future pitfalls while using nuclear energy.

Turkey had its own source of nuclear scientists in the 1960s, thanks to Middle East Technical University- (METU) led training programs. It even set up the Nuclear Plant Department of the Turkish Electricity Administration in 1971. However the Turkish economy could not afford to build a power plant, and the Department was shut down in 1987. “The Department's mostly METU graduate engineers were either transferred to other departments or left the establishment,” said Direskeneli. Since then Turkish graduates have either launched private firms in the energy sector, or participated in site installations abroad, particularly in Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries. “Those who remained in Turkey secured high posts in public administration, while others found employment in nuclear power plants, occupying high-level positions in the U.S., Canadian and Swiss nuclear power industries. We let them slip out of our hands,” he said.

Direskeneli said nuclear technology is not the only energy sector where Turkey lags far behind the level an industrialized state should already have attained. “We are way too late for even preparing thermal power plant projects and practicing relevant engineering. Our contractors contend with site installation and civil structure,” said Direskeneli. Except for the two big fish in the sector, no Turkish companies give indigenous engineers a chance to prove their talents, according to Direskeneli. “But those two companies harnessed the creativity of young Turkish engineers and created wonders abroad,” he said.

As if local contractors' reluctance to take the risks of thermal power plant engineering was not enough to hinder indigenous efforts to kick start new plants, competition from Chinese firms seem to have banished all hope for meaningful local participation in big energy projects. “Chinese firms are constructing power plants in Biga, Zonguldak, Şırnak and Beypazarı. It is unbelievable that Turkish investment firms prefer Chinese construction firms over their Turkish colleagues as their subcontractors,” said Direskeneli. Unfortunately for Turkish contractors, Chinese firms have a holistic approach to power plant building and undertake its every stage, from simple construction to the key engineering components. “They even bring their own workers from China. In the old days Turkish firms were satisfied with site installation, now they do not even have a chance at it,” said Direskeneli.

But Direskeneli is wiser than those who succumb to the tempting but simplistic “blame the Chinese” approach. It is up to Turkish firms whether and how to make use of the country's skilled force. “Fresh graduates from chemical and mechanical engineering departments can build power plants themselves, with a little guidance from their experienced colleagues,” Direskeneli said. But even in the operation phase Turkey cannot be said to be doing perfectly according to Direskeneli during a November visit to Turkey's most important thermal power plants.
An appalling case of energy sector operations

Afşin-Elbistan thermal power Plant A, erected in the 1980s in the southeastern province of Kahramanmaraş and its sister Plant B is a case in point. “Afşin-Elbistan hosts Turkey's most important electricity generation projects, and half of the country's proven lignite reserves are located there,” Direskeneli said.

Thermal plant A and B each consist of four units that have an approximately 350 MW output. Plant A however, lacks flue gas desulphurization and it releases poisonous smoke into the air, causing massive environmental damage to the plains of Elbistan and serious health problems, like lung cancer, amongst the local population. Plant A sure has “electrostatic precipitators” (that collect dust and somewhat lessen the environmental damage the plant can cause), but the problem is that they are not working properly. Turkey signed a 280 million euro credit agreement with the World Bank in September 2006 to refurbish Plant A, but the project still lingers.

Plant B on the other hand, was completed in 2006 and is a state-of-the-art power plant with full equipment for environmental protection. Only harmless vapor goes through its cooling towers. In order to prevent massive damage to the environment then, it sounds logical to use Plant A at less than full capacity until necessary refurbishments are undertaken, and to use Plant B at full capacity.

That's exactly where absurdities begin. “Plant B can not be used efficiently, since the systems necessary to feed it with coal are inexistent. There is a simple conveyor belt carrying coal from Plant A to Plant B that allows the latter to function only with two of its four units,” said Direskeneli. Besides, Plant B is constructed in the center of the coal field, and there is no chance of putting the coal underneath to use. “Another example of poor planning,” Direskeneli said.

The story gets even stranger as one learns more about the dark side of the story. Power Plant B, despite its modern equipment to manage toxic gases, creates environmental damage indirectly. Standard procedure involves burial of toxic ash waste, covering it with soil and planting trees on top. But “although hazardous particles in Plant B's waste materials are collected, they are simply piled up on the plains since no ash dams have been built to bury them in,” said Direskeneli.

Last but not least, the region does not have enough water storage facilities to supply both the power plants' gigantic water-coolers and the nearby municipalities. “The population cannot be provided with adequate water if both the water-coolers work at full capacity. We are told that new dams will be erected in three years time. But they could have avoided the need for more dams by building air-cooling power plants in the first place,” said Direskeneli.

“We have two massive power plants that together can produce 2,800 MW of electricity. Both work at half capacity though, since the first is a big polluter and the second is a coal plant without adequate coal feeding. Turkey throws away at least $1billion worth of electricity each year,” Direskeneli said. Inevitably he makes an analogy to the nuclear plant to be constructed in Turkey. “Given our past and current experience with operating thermal power plants, I do not want to think what may happen if the current negligence reoccurs in the nuclear business,” said Direskeneli adding that poor planning and negligence are the two dangers that Turkey must avoid in its future nuclear experience.
Nuclear energy a must for ever growing needs

Things may look disheartening at Afşin-Elbistan, but Turkey must still meet its energy needs, growing by 8 percent every year. The government plans to build capacity for 5,000 MW of nuclear power between 2010 and 2020. “A capacity of 5,000 MW can at best be a long-term goal. Finland is struggling to attain a nuclear energy output of 1,500 MW after 10 years and works still continue,” said Direskeneli, adding that it could take even longer for Turkey.

What matters though, is that Turkey should restart its nuclear energy training or its dependency on foreign expertise will only grow. Government envisages a 60 percent domestic contribution to new nuclear power plants, but Direskeneli is skeptical. “Dealing with the site installation and civil structure of a power plant will not help Turkey to acquire nuclear technology,” he said.

Turkey is known to possess a high amount of renewable energy resources like wind, hydroelectric and solar power too. Direskeneli thinks that these sources should also be developed, although we should keep in mind their limitations. “A year has 8,760 hours, and full cycle power plants, (which use nuclear or thermal power to produce electricity) have the longest availability time with 8,000 hours,” he said. “Wind power has merely 2,000 to 3,000 hours of availability and hydroelectricity is dependable only if there is enough water running,” he said, pointing to their uncertain availability that ranges from 3,000 to 6,000 hours. Solar power is yet to mature in economic feasibility, said Direskeneli, concluding that all these reasons compel Turkey to master nuclear technology.

Turkey needs to act fast, as an energy crisis is in store for the country in 2008."Despite the massive growth in energy needs, no investments have been made since the last five years. Even rehabilitation of Soma and Yatağan thermal power plants are not completed,” said Direskeneli. Given the bleak outlook on domestic intellectual sources on energy, he stressed that Turkey must invest heavily in education. “At least we diagnosed the problems, and we know we have the power to act on them. Turkey must pull itself together,” Direskeneli concluded.


Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Personal Evaluation of Nuclear Energy in Turkey- 2007

Dear Energy Professional, Dear Colleagues

Those of the 1968 generation will recall that there was a “Nuclear'' division in the METU Mechanical Engineering Department along with “Heat” and “Mechanics”. There were many graduates with BSc, MSc, and even PhD degrees from the “Nuclear” division, all of whom were confident that they could design, build, and operate nuclear power plants.

There were also students from other Middle East Countries, Pakistan, even several from Iran, studying together with their Turkish colleagues. The Iranians had a thick Azeri Turkish accent at the beginning, which was lost in time, replacing it with smooth daily Turkish, making them no different than our own local nationals. When they graduated, they returned to their countries, and worked on their careers.

In Turkey, several METU graduates started working at the Turkish Electricity Authority, Nuclear Energy Department, but throughout the years, Turkey could not keep pace with the requirements of the nuclear age.. No serious development could be established in Turkish Nuclear energy plans except serious corruption news in Turkish Nuclear tenders. Then, the IMF asked the government to stop work on nuclear energy tenders since that activity put high financial risk on the Turkish Treasury. Working in nuclear energy planning ceased in the early 2000s.

The Nuclear Energy Division of the Turkish Electricity Authority, which was created in early 1960s, was also closed and its mostly METU graduate engineers were either transferred to other departments or left the establishment. Almost 40 years has passed since 1968, which were exciting for METU graduates. What do you think those METU ME Nuclear graduates have been doing since 1968??

Some of the Turkish graduates formed their own private companies in the energy sector. Most were very successful in their own private businesses. They constructed high capacity coal mine transfer systems in thermal power plants, some completed mechanical installation works in thermal power plants, others completed site installations abroad, especially in the Middle East Countries as well as in the Central Asian countries.

Some formed their own plants in order to make fabrication of steel structures for industrial installations, some worked in public enterprises, in the Ministries. They were promoted to high, prestigious public posts and private positions; and many of them went abroad to earn their livelihoods and pursue their own careers. Some of them worked in nuclear power plants in those foreign lands and occupied high-level positions in the USA, Canada, Switzerland nuclear power industries.

Some of the Iranian national METU graduates worked on their own nuclear industry in Iran. Today we all know that Iranian METU graduates cover the decision-making posts of the top management levels in the Iranian nuclear business. They construct, design, build and hopefully will soon operate nuclear power plants in Iran.

Whatever is said on Iranian business environment, you may criticize their products, their outputs, their political environment or else, but you should evaluate carefully the latest stage that they have reached in their own nuclear technology.

Today, Iranian nuclear technology is somewhat the product of METU Mechanical Engineering Department Nuclear Division of the 1968s.

Same is true for Pakistan. It is not secret that there are many METU graduates in Pakistan working for the national nuclear industry as well as other energy business, hydro, thermal, renewable energy.

We wish the great human resource of METU Nuclear division graduates could have been utilized to establish the local nuclear power plants in Turkey and solve our prevailing energy problem.

We shall enter into a serious energy crisis in 2008-2009, which is agreed by all parties. Our big players of public and private enterprises have foreseen the bottleneck. They had meetings one after another. Turkish energy market is not so easy to deal with as well as not so profitable. It is a very tough sector. It is a very difficult market. Public enterprises cannot make new investments, since they have no financial resources to allocate andno money to spend.

Nobody wants to make new big investments, just because our energy market lost its bankability, its reliability in the financial markets. International investors are reluctant to make investments; they do not want to finance any project, since they foresee high risk.
Because of that high risk, they calculate a high interest rate.

Why our energy markets/ projects are not “bankable”? The documents created to finance the new energy projects are not “bankable documents”. They are not internationally acceptable and recognized “bankable documents.” Our legal framework is not fully developed and not properly tested yet. Very few investors show interest on new energy projects. If you ask any international reputable company to prepare any proposal for your new energy project, you cannot get their response. The pre-feasibility / feasibility documents are not in international standards.

Public tenders are not bankable; they ask impossible clauses, so these are not bankable.

The feasibility documents prepared in the local market for billion US Dollar projects are created at low cost, at low quality, and hence they are not acceptable if not miserable.

Today go to any reputable International Engineering Company, ask a proposal for any of your energy projects, and see if they respond.

You are at the mercy of Eastern World/ Indian- China- Korean companies, or Canadian Candu, if you eliminate USA and French companies due to unnecessary international disputes of the near past.

Eastern World companies are newcomers to the international nuclear energy business, at low prices with their own developing/ untested technology.

We should not exaggerate the nuclear power plant requirement. 5000 MWe tender for nuclear power plant is an exaggeration. It will create pure foreign domination.

Turkey hasn’t been able to create her own technology in nuclear energy business up to now, even though

we had sufficient staff/ human engineering/ intellectual power in 1968s.

Turkish companies could not create high value-added energy products in energy business for her own local market to generate cheap energy,

not only nuclear technology.

We even cannot construct our own thermal power plant, not even simple coal firing plants. We are not talking about a space shuttle, those are just a number of steel tube fabrications. ,

Our own local private companies cannot cover the scope other than “civil works, foundations, and site installation”, they operate at so low profit margins, with low value-added levels, based on unqualified or semi-qualified labor work.

Nobody wants to leave that unqualified or semi-qualified labor work to foreign companies, local workers resist to foreign participation as in Kazakhstan, Ireland, Gulf.

We still hope that we can complete huge tasks with so little early preparation,

We still think that we can handle/ create “bankable feasibility documents” at low cost with in-house excel sheets.

This writer, a veteran of energy business for more than 30 years, has occupied seats at the foreign side of the negotiation table many times in the past.

Foreign parties come to the negotiation table well prepared with all calculated risks of the subject project, they make serious and expensive “due diligence” works, they spend serious money for that early preparation, they evaluate the project risks carefully.

When they receive your "In-house prepared so-called bankable feasibility document"

They will advise that they will carefully review the document

That review will not be finalized for years

And you wait for their final decision in years and years

Turkish people should realize that they should create their own technology

They should support their own human resources, more funds to be allocated to R&D, higher salaries should be paid for young engineering graduates, more software and hardware supplies should be acquired

Believe me that our young engineering graduates are no different than those of their counterparts in the reputable foreign companies. In some of foreign engineering companies, there are even high level managers / directors with Turkish origin

Nuclear power plants are basically a kind of improved thermal power plants. There is one cycle more. You have to employ higher safety measures, and solve waste problem appropriately. We can consider further advantages of a nuclear power plant in energy security. It is also good to train your people on nuclear technology, on nuclear safety, on nuclear awareness.

Your geography imposes your foreign policies as well as your energy policies. In your geography you have no luxury of staying anti-nuclear, in nuclear free environment. You need to develop your own nuclear technology, educate your nuclear intellectual power, train your staff/ your human resources. By being an anti- nuclear activist, you cannot learn details of the nuclear technology. You learn by doing as elsewhere as always.

We should also appreciate that nuclear technology is a very dear, very
precious, very expensive issue. It is not free of charge. It is not even possible to get only with bare money as in the case of thermal power generation.

The level of development in your own country in Nuclear technology will obviously warn other parties that you are no longer at the vulnerable developing stage but in the high tech league. That has also a deterrence factor for the rival parties to think twice for any action they take against you.

If you do not wish to give any concession in your foreign policy, then you should depend on your own talent at a lower and independent cost. You can only get it through your own hard work by employing your young talents with their latest scientific and intellectual capability.

It is also a matter of survival of the fittest in this region.

Final wording, as the old saying goes, “If you think you can, you can.”

Your comments are always welcome. Thank you & best regards
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