Sunday, January 18, 2009

Capital city may need to call on nuclear power

ANKARA - Growing dependent on its northern neighbor, the need to tackle air pollution and sustain reasonable prices may compel the building of a nuclear power plant in the lower Kızılırmak basin, notes an energy analyst, a proposition that angers electricity and environmental engineers

Satisfying the energy demands of Ankara will become increasingly costly and the capital may need to consider the nuclear option, warned a member of an energy commission for a chamber of mechanical engineers.

Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on the sidelines of a conference over the weekend, Haluk Direskeneli said: "Household heating in Ankara is dependent on natural gas, which comes mostly from Russia through the Blue Stream pipeline."

Direskeneli said the latest gas cut in the western pipeline that feeds Turkey would not hit Ankara. "We also have Iranian gas in Ankara. Ankara will not be affected by the current Ukrainian gas interruption, or conflict, unlike the northwest of Turkey and Istanbul. Direskeneli was detailing the capital's energy needs at the Ankara 2nd Urban Symposium, organized by the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects, or TMMOB.

Despite the relatively uninterrupted gas flow to the capital, prices may become increasingly high noted Direskeneli. "The current gas price is too high compared to other fuel sources. It is around $420 to $450 per thousand cubic meters in Western Europe, which is the same tariff we are charged by the original supplier to the north," he said.

"In the long run, to answer the ever increasing energy needs, we may even consider planning for a nuclear power plant on the lower Kızılırmak river basin, provided that we educate our nuclear engineering staff in latest nuclear technology to carry out design, construction, operation and decommission properly, by ourselves," he said, highlighting what he referred to as Turkey’s dire energy needs.

A particularly strong reaction to these comments came from electric and environmental engineers, who pointed to the problem of nuclear waste and the risk from operating nuclear plants.

"I know that there is not a definite solution to the nuclear waste problem. But faced with the choices, having a grasp of nuclear technology will do us no harm," he said.

His comments come just days before a consortium led by Russia’s state-run Atomstroyexport, together with Inter RAO and Turkish Park Teknik, the sole bidder in the tender to build and operate Turkey's first nuclear power plant, are to announce their energy unit price offer.

Tackling consumption

"According to experts' estimations, Turkey will have to build about 50,000 megawatts of generation capacity by 2020 to meet its fast growing electricity consumption," he said.

Providing energy for minimum and stable prices is only one aspect of a sustainable energy policy, as efficiency and reduced pollution form an integral part of energy procurement, said experts.

On average, Ankara uses its electricity with considerably more efficiently than the rest of Turkey. "Theft and loss within Ankara’s electricity distribution system is estimated to be around 8.7 percent, which is lower than the national average 15.1 percent, although these rates need to be verified," Direskeneli said.

The Capital Electricity Distribution Corporation’s deputy general manager, Mehmet Ali Atay, asserted that the figures were true. "Most of the loss is due to technicalities. People think shanty towns are responsible for most of the electricity stolen. I can assure you that it is much less compared to other parts of the city," he said.

Besides securing tenable prices for energy supplies, Ankara is under pressure to prevent air pollution that ran rampant in the 1990s and is feared to rise again. Ankara’s air quality may seriously decline if the distribution of coal to poor families, criticized by many as "alms giving to citizens," by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, does not meet environmental standards.

"Poor families have been supplied with coal for a long time, distributed by the municipalities, under Environment Ministry regulations. However, a new regulation last August removed the condition that coal should be used in rural areas, where it is much less likely to cause air pollution," said Environmental Engineers’ Chamber member Hasan Seçkin.

A report prepared and released by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, titled "Environmental Performance Evaluation Report: Turkey," released late 2008, said air pollution in Ankara had surpassed national air quality standards, Direskeneli said.

The problem is that alternative and renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar power are not long-term solutions for Ankara’s need for low-cost energy, at least with current levels of technology.

"Windy mountains around Ankara, like Elmadağ or Hüseyin Gazi crest may be suitable for generating wind power. However, wind power’s contribution to Ankara will not be to provide energy, but provide more jobs if wind tribunes for the rest of Turkey are produced here," Direskeneli said.

"Wind turbines cost approximately 1 million to 1.2 million euros per 1 megawatt unit on global markets. But, the turbines produced locally in Turkey will have a lower price tag," he added.

Due to high costs and difficulties of mass electricity production, solar panels are not feasible in the near future for Ankara and its region either, Direskeneli said.

19 Ocak 2009 Hurriyet Daily News,by Mustafa Oğuz


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