Turkish Court Authorizes National Security Council to Cancel the Russian-Built Akkuyu Nuclear Plant on National Security Grounds; Intervention is Optional

On June 19, a court in Turkey’s southern province of Mercin approved a legal claim filed by Turkish non-governmental organizations seeking to halt construction of Rosatom’s $20 billion Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant in Mercin.  Although legal challenges to the nuclear project by Turkish environmentalists have been ongoing since the project started in 2018, the newest decision is notable in that it brings into the fold several Turkish government agencies (Health Ministry, Finance Ministry, Food, Agriculture, and Livestock Ministry) as plaintiffs in the case.  The decision authorizes Turkey’s National Security Council (MGK) to interdict the project, at its discretion. The likelihood of a possible intervention by MGK, however, remains unclear. 

Although, since the project’s inception, the Akkuyu project has consistently faced criticism for environmental degradation, technical irregularities, safety risks, and even financing gaps, it has thus far had political support from Turkey’s central government, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who touted the plant’s benefits to Turkey’s economy and energy diversification (once completed the nuclear plant is expected to produce approximately 10% of Turkey’s total energy supply).

Lawyers involved in the litigation argued that Turkey’s dependency on Russian-sourced energy amid Ankara’s growing areas of rivalry with Russia, including in Syria, but also over Libya and other issues, posed a national security threat for the country. Moreover, the potential environmental threat posed by the plant was characterized as a liability, given that Turkey would be responsible for any foreseeable damage caused by the plant, without any liability falling on Rosatom or Russia.

In August 2019, engineers and workers at Akkuyu alleged that there was a lack of qualified technicians working on the project, which also suffered severe lack of oversight. Other climate and geography-related concerns persisted with critics continuing to raise alarm over the flooding and seismic risks that could be triggered by the Akkuyu plant. Mersin is located near a fault line where the Eurasian and African tectonic plates meet, making it an earthquake-prone area. In May 2019, reports of cracks in the foundation of the NPP emerged. Experts inconclusively attributed them either to technical mistakes or seismic activity.