Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition
Quake revives debate about future of Turkish nuke plant
NICOSIA, Cyprus — A devastating earthquake that toppled buildings across parts of Turkey and neighboring Syria has revived a long-standing debate locally and in neighboring Cyprus about a large nuclear power station being built on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coastline.
The plant’s site in Akkuyu, some 210 miles west of the epicenter of the Feb. 6 quake, is being designed to endure powerful tremors and did not sustain any damage or experience powerful ground shaking from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake and aftershocks.
But the size of the quake — the deadliest in Turkey’s modern history — sharpened existing concerns about the facility being built on the edge of a major fault line.
Rosatom, Russia’s stateowned company in charge of the project, says the power station is designed to “withstand extreme external influences” from a magnitude 9 earthquake. In nuclear power plant construction, plants are designed to survive shaking that is more extreme than what’s been previously recorded in the area they’re situated.
The possibility of a magnitude 9 earthquake occurring in the vicinity of the Akkuyu reactor “is approximately once every 10,000 years,” Rosatom told The Associated Press via email. “That is exactly how the margin of safety concept is being implemented.”
When contacted, an official with Turkey’s Energy Ministry said there were no immediate plans to reassess the project. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government protocol. Some activists, however, still say the project — the first nuclear power plant in Turkey — poses a threat.
Nuclear facilities are constructed of heavily reinforced concrete, sized for significant earthquake shaking and far more robust than commercial buildings, said Andrew Whittaker, a professor of civil engineering at the University at Buffalo who is an expert in earthquake engineering and nuclear structures.
The fact that it’s sited off the western end of the East Anatolian Fault, which was linked to last week’s powerful temblor, suggests that the design would have been checked for significant shaking, Whittaker added.
Still, Whittaker said, it would be prudent to reassess seismic hazard calculations in the region for all infrastructure, including the plant.
“There’s always a reason to be cautious,” he said.
That’s little comfort to activists in Turkey and on both sides of ethnically divided Cyprus. They’ve renewed their calls for the project to be scrapped, saying that the devastating earthquake is clear proof of the great risk posed by a nuclear power plant near seismic fault lines.
Nuclear power plants worldwide are designed to withstand earthquakes and shut down safely in the event of major earth movement — about 20% of nuclear reactors are operating in areas of significant seismic activity, according to the World Nuclear Association.