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Democracy is forgotten for the sake of nuclear power in Turkey

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Özgür Gürbüz

Turkey's nuclear ambition is not limited to the Akkuyu power plant in the south ‒ the north has its own problem. Sinop is the second place where the government of Turkey wants to build a nuclear power plant with the help of Japanese and French firms.

While the Akkuyu project's future gets cloudy after the announcement of the withdrawal of potential Turkish partners, the Sinop project suddenly came on to the agenda with an Environmental Impact Assessment Report and its legal obligation to hold a public participation meeting. The name is misleading though. On 6 February 2018, environmentalists of Sinop, members of the Anti-Nuclear Platform together with MPs and several NGOs gathered to join the public participation meeting only to face fences, police barricades, water cannon vehicles and pepper gas.

That was an unusually tense morning for a city like Sinop, one of Turkey's 'happiest cities' according to the Turkish Statistical Institute. Early birds of Sinop witnessed a strange activity with tens of police officers and plainclothes people jumping on buses. They were soon to fill the conference hall of Sinop University as the "selected public", leaving no room for anti-nuclear activists or even ordinary people wishing to learn and raise questions about the nuclear project. Buses left the city centre as early as 4.30am. Judging by the number-plates, three of them were brought from nearby provinces to Sinop. Some of the people on board were in uniforms and some were not, but they were going to be part of the same play named, "I love nuclear".

All these efforts proved to be effective since the conference hall was full before sunrise. Everybody who could ask serious questions about the project or protest the meeting were left out by police barricades, built as far as one kilometre from the venue. That included the Sinop MP Barış Karadeniz, Sinop's mayor Baki Ergül and other MPs (Orhan Bursalı, Ali Şeker), as well as the representative of the Chamber of Electrical Engineers or lawyers who came on behalf of Turkey's Bar Association. People of Sinop understood that the public participation meeting was only for the "selected public". Although it is very difficult to stage democratic protests in Turkey at the moment due to the State of Emergency, people protesting the project chanted behind the police roadblock to make their voices heard under the pouring rain.

After one hour of waiting, people decided to submit their petition of objection to the office of the Governor where they faced another police barricade. The march through the barricade was stopped by the police with the use of pepper spray. Soon after, the police and the protesters managed to reach an agreement and a committee of MPs, lawyers and the members of the anti-nuclear movement saw the Governor of Sinop Hasan İpek, and handed over more than 200 petitions claiming that their right to join the meeting was revoked. While negotiations continued in the governor's office, the crowd outside kept on protesting the nuclear power plant project, which is planned to be built through a Japanese-French consortium between Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Engie. Together they will hold 51% of the shares and the rest will be controlled by Turkey's Electricity Generation Company EUAS).

A man managed to get inside the conference hall and criticize the nuclear project. The news and videos showed that he was attacked by the crowd, and then he was taken into custody by the police. This is a clear indication that EUAS International ICC has no intention to have an open and democratic debate regarding the nuclear project. What they say is simple: "Either you love it or you have to love it". That raises a question. Would there be any such anti-democratic treatment if that project was in France or Japan?

Regardless of the excess capacity of Turkey's electricity market and high purchase guarantees extended to nuclear power plants, the government of Turkey is still keen to realize deadly nuclear projects. They still do not admit it but they have chosen the wrong path to solve the country's energy problem.