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Turkey, China near agreement on nuclear power plant

If built, the facility will likely be Turkey's third nuclear plant, with Russia currently constructing its first.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) inspect Chinese honour guards during a welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 2, 2019. (Photo by WANG ZHAO / AFP) (Photo by WANG ZHAO/AFP via Getty Images)

A Turkish energy official announced on Thursday that a deal with China for the construction of a new nuclear power plant could soon be finalized, a significant development in nuclear power for Turkey and the country’s relations with China.

Turkish Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar told reporters on Thursday that Ankara is in talks with a Chinese company on the matter and that a deal can be finalized “in a few months.” The news follows a visit by Chinese officials to the likely site of the plant near the border with Greece and Bulgaria, Bloomberg reported.

Why it matters: Nuclear power is an important part of Turkey’s energy planning. Russian energy giant Rosatom is currently building the country's first nuclear power plant, Akkuyu, in the southern province of Mersin.

The project with China will likely be Turkey’s third nuclear plant. South Korean companies and Rosatom have expressed interest in building what would be the second, located on the Black Sea, said Bayraktar, according to Bloomberg.

In July, Bayraktar had said that Ankara was in talks with China, Russia and South Korea about constructing Turkey’s second and third nuclear plants.

Turkey gets its power from a variety of sources. Gas accounted for 33% of its total power generation in 2021, followed closely by coal at 32%, hydropower at 17% and non-hydro renewable energy at 18%, according to a report from the London-based energy think tank Ember.

Turkey’s reliance on coal is controversial. In July, protesters gathered in the Akbelen forest in the southwestern part of the country to protest the destruction of trees to make way for a coal mine as well as the air pollution produced by coal, the Associated Press reported at the time.

In January, Turkey released a national energy plan, outlining its efforts to increase the use of renewable energy.

Bayraktar’s comments on Thursday came amid improving relations between China and Turkey. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Ankara in late July and discussed economic ties, among other subjects, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Also of note is Turkey's opposition to the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor. The corridor is a planned rail and shipping project that aims to link Asia, the Gulf and Europe for the purpose of greater economic integration. On Saturday, the United States, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates signed a memorandum of understanding on the corridor on the sidelines of the G20 summit. IMEC is widely seen as a counter to China's Belt and Road Initiative.

Erdogan criticized the corridor, which bypasses Turkey, to reporters on Sunday, saying, "We say that there is no corridor without Turkey," according to multiple reports.

On the other hand, the People’s Republic has been widely criticized for its persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, and Turkish-Chinese relations have historically been somewhat cool due to Turkey's support for the Muslim population there. Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries in the region have remained silent on the issue, leaving Turkey as the sole public supporter of Muslim Uyghurs in the Middle East. 

Know more: Several countries in the Middle East are actively pursuing or are already making use of nuclear energy. Iran continues to develop its nuclear capabilities and Saudi Arabia is also considering a Chinese bid to build a nuclear plant. In 2020, the United Arab Emirates opened its first nuclear power plant, while Israel built a nuclear facility decades ago.

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