Turkey’s energy dance
August 8th, 2012
07:01 PM ET

Turkey’s energy dance

By J. Berkshire Miller, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: J. Berkshire Miller is an Asia-Pacific analyst. The views expressed are his own.

Surrounded by a sea of uncertainty, Turkey continues a sustained effort to bolster its ties with East Asia. Ankara has long established relations with the region’s key players, including China, Japan and South Korea. A historical lack of management of these key relationships, though, has led to Turkey underperforming in its attempts to brand itself in the region. At the same time, though, Turkey is facing considerable challenges and opportunities in its own geopolitical neighborhood.

The strategic topography of the Middle East remains dynamic and unpredictable, and the sovereign debt crisis in Europe risks jeopardizing Ankara’s significant interests in exporting and serving as a transit country to the continent. This region will always be Turkey’s backyard and the legacy of the Ottoman Empire allows a certain amount of exceptionalism – and sometimes isolation – when dealing with neighbors.

One area where Ankara is hoping to secure an agreement with Asia is through the development of its civil nuclear program. As Turkey’s economy and population have continued to grow, the government has remained committed to finding new energy sources to meet increased demand.

But complicating matters have been strained relations with Syria, Iran and the Kurdish region of Iraq. Nearly half of Turkey’s energy imports come in the form of gas, mainly from Russia and Iran. Gas from Iran makes up as much as 20 percent of Turkey’s total energy imports – a number that’s declining rapidly due to American pressure to isolate Tehran over its nuclear program.

The renaissance of neo-Ottomanism under Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, has floundered due to unwise bets on outdated regimes. This has resulted in the need for a paradigm shift for Turkey’s energy policy toward Asia. With these considerations in mind, Ankara has indicated that it wants to expedite the logistics around establishing a foothold in nuclear power generation to offset its reliance on Russia and Iran. Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz recently emphasized this point, noting that “nuclear power plants are a must for us if we want to be a developed country and devise a sustainable energy policy.” After dabbling in the nuclear power arena for decades, Turkey finally seems ready to articulate past policy recommendations into firm infrastructural commitments.

Back in 2010, Turkey entered into a nuclear agreement with South Korea and then inked two similar agreements with China this past April. Construction is slated to begin next year on Turkey’s first nuclear reactor at Akkuyu in the southern province of Mersin. The Turkish government plans to house an additional three reactors at Akkuyu, which is being developed with Russian assistance. Plans for a second power plant are also underway at the northern port city of Sinop on the Black Sea.

All this has resulted in a horse race between Asian nuclear industrial titans Korea and Japan. The Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) prepared itself to bid on the contract at Sinop, but reportedly bowed out after complications regarding electricity sales guarantees. This opened the door for Japan, which signed an agreement to prepare a bid, spearheaded by Toshiba and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).

The nuclear crisis at Fukushima in March 2011 squashed any hopes that a deal would be struck and significantly dented the prestige of TEPCO at home and abroad. But it appears that KEPCO has recovered from previous stumbles and is favorite again to develop the Sinop plant. Indeed, Ankara and Seoul have signed a deal to develop the plant at Sinop that could be worth as much as $20 billion if KEPCO is awarded contracts for all four reactors. The deal comes after Korea secured a $40 billion contract in 2009 with the United Arab Emirates to govern nuclear technology exports. But competition over Sinop is still fierce, and this looks far from a done deal.

No matter which country is able to finalize an agreement with Turkey, there are clear implications and reciprocity issues at play. For example, Turkey imports nearly $5 billion worth of goods from Korea but only sends $300 million in exports to Seoul. This massive trade imbalance has been a sticking point in Ankara’s drive to build a comprehensive strategic partnership with Korea. Similarly, Turkey suffers from considerable trade gaps with China and Japan. Closer energy cooperation would bind Turkey to the region in a more committed way and necessitate greater attention to evening the playing field.

The opportunities of nuclear energy for Turkey are tantalizing. Establishing reactors at Akkuyu and Sinop will allow more flexibility in dealing with intransigence in its neighborhood by offering Turkey an alternative to its traditional energy suppliers. The development also lends Turkey a prestige factor that it has been seeking in promoting its brand. While the image of nuclear power was shattered by the crisis in Fukushima last year, it still remains an elite club with deep pockets.

Still, there are also risks. Despite Turkey being a strong proponent of the non-proliferation regime, there are concerns that nuclear development may partially be motivated as a hedge over Iran’s nuclear program. Also, while the Akkuyu plant is located in low risk region, the planned location of the Sinop plant reportedly carries a medium level risk of seismic activity, and is in a region that has suffered from major earthquakes before.

Yet despite these complications, energy diversification and rebalancing strategic interests must remain a primary policy driver for Turkey.

“As Eurasia is important for world energy markets, the security of the global energy supply must be provided for by global cooperation,” Erdogan stressed last year.

Geopolitical realities on its doorsteps are forcing Turkey to expedite this strategy.”

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Topics: Turkey

soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. Joseph McCarthy

    What the Turks sorely need to do now is to sue the PKK for peace and work out some kind of time table giving the Kurds the independence they deserve. They should also set up a plebiscite in northers Cyprus to let those people decide Cyprus' future. Most of all, quit doing things at the behest of the U.S., Great Britain and France!

    August 8, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Reply
    • Ferhat Balkan

      Asking the PKK for peace is like asking al-Qaeda for peace. Their methods for independence are nothing short of single minded brutality. PKK is also one of the biggest drug smuggling organizations in Europe. Negotiations with them will accomplish nothing as the violence will continue. Their ideology is deeply rooted in Communism. I think Turkey needs to invest more in the Eastern regions, as unemployment there often creates unrest. Kurds often leave their homes there and travel to Istanbul or Ankara to look for jobs. If Turkey solves the jobless rate there, I believe there will be no more problems from the Kurds. As for Cyprus, the United Nations proposal called the 'Annan Plan' was submitted to both Northern and Southern Cyprus, but the Greeks to the south objected to the plan, so I don't think the problem is with Turkey, but rather the Greeks who are unwilling to make any sacrifices on their part.

      August 8, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Reply
      • Joseph McCarthy

        If the British felt the same way toward us as you do toward the PKK Ferhat, we'd all be still fighting the Revolutionary War here and now! The British wised up and signed the 1783 Treaty of Paris, giving us our independence instead.

        August 10, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
      • Ferhat Balkan

        I'm sure the Revolutionary War would've had a different outcome if it was fought in England Joseph. You can learn much from the history of say... Scotland. There is a huge difference between giving up land on your own turf and giving up land at colonial states.

        August 10, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • FakestiniansRJordanians

      Turkiye needs to end its illegal occupation of Cyprus. Turkiye has no business being in Cyprus. End Turkyie's illegal occupation of Cyprus. Turkiye also needs to oppose rather than support islamic terrorism.

      August 11, 2012 at 8:43 am | Reply
      • James Kip

        I think you need to be booted from this forum, you are such an ignorant person, you have no idea whats going on in the world or any idea about what happened in the past. Because of people like you terror will survive.You are the fuel that terror runs on, people like you.

        August 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
      • SelimTheSot

        @James Kip, I couldn't put it any better.. well said... His hatred blinded him and he can't even make an intelligent argument.. This is one of the downsides of internet, can't stop comments like this...

        August 13, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  2. j. von hettlingen

    Turkey has really have to choose their nuclear sites carefully in order to avoid another Fukushima scenario. It has seen a long lost of notable earthquakes in history. The country is a seismically active area within the complex zone of collision between the Eurasian Plate and both the African and Arabian Plates. Much of the country lies on the Anatolian Plate, a small plate bounded by two major strike-slip fault zones, the North Anatolian Fault and East Anatolian Fault.

    August 9, 2012 at 3:51 am | Reply
    • Samuel Brinckerhoff PhD

      This is not so bad as the Hindu Plate and the Chinese Plate in The Indian Zone above the Kashmir Fault Zone that is now statistically due for a collision with a 99% confidence level and may cause implosion of a magnitude never seen before and have effects all the way to Turkey. Amercan Presidential candidates have been asked to succintly define their stance on this phenomenon and preparedness for same.

      August 11, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      please read: long LIST of.....

      August 12, 2012 at 2:54 am | Reply
  3. SAS

    Turkey has immense potential for offshore wind energy, surrounded as it is by seas on three sides. It also is a sunny country so it has large solar potential as well. The Turkish government should invest its billions on solar and wind energy to reduce its fossil fuel consumption.

    August 9, 2012 at 9:06 am | Reply
    • FakestiniansRJordanians

      First, Turkey must end its illegal occupation of Cyprus.

      August 11, 2012 at 8:43 am | Reply
      • Bulent

        The Greek-Cypriot fascist repression, persecution and mass murder of Turkish Cypriots were the impetus for the Turkish invasion of Norther Cyprus in 1974 since when there has not been a single murder of a Turkish Cypriot by the Greeks! As a result of the UN referendum in which the Turkish Cypriots voted overwhelmingly for reunification and when the Greeks Cypriots displayed their trues racist colors by rejecting it the case of a united Cyprus was CLOSED once and for all as no Turkish Cypriot is likely to give up their sovereign rights to anybody after administering their own affairs since 1974 PERIOD

        August 18, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • clearick

      Turkey needs to explore all types of non-polluting energy production, including geothermal. I would expect pipelines from Iraq and Iran to head through Turkey to the Black Sea. Nuclear power creates a lot of problems because there is no good solution for the waste material.

      August 13, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Reply
  4. deniz boro

    sensured clearly on this side of the world.

    August 9, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Reply
  5. Ekram

    Farhat, one year ago I visited Turkey and loved the place. However, the treatment of Kurdish people by Turkish government I found very disturbing plus, its interference in Syria's internal conflict (caused by external forces) is another nail in the coffin for my respect towards Turkey. I thought that Turkey would be a model country for other muslim country to look up to but no....I don't think so anymore. I am not Al Assad's supporter to the least but I believe Turkey has played dirty role in cooperation with west and sunni arab countries.......By the way, I am not an Alawite or Shia so you suspect me for being biased! Shame on you Turkey.....you let me down!

    August 11, 2012 at 2:39 am | Reply
    • FakestiniansRJordanians

      What about Turkiye's blatant illegal occupation of Cyprus!?

      August 11, 2012 at 8:41 am | Reply
    • James Kip

      I was there 2 years ago and Kurdish people are everywhere in Turkey. I heard just Istanbul has a 500K Kurdish people living there. Current government has 5 kurdish origin ministers. How do they really treat them bad whenthey have a kurdish political party in the parliament representing not most but some of the kurdish people since most kurdish population voted for the current government.

      August 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Reply
    • clearick

      There is no way that foreigners caused this blowup in Syria, this was all self-induced by Assad. Syria is a majority Sunni country, and the government is being propped up by Iran. Jordan and the Palestinians are also Sunni like the Turks. Turkey has allowed in over 60,000 Syrian refugees fleeing their own governments troops. The Free Syrian Army has deserters from the Syrian military and it's own Generals and Prime Minister abandoned the regime. Assad has no legitimacy any longer. I think Turkey is on the right side in this, and taking more of a leadership role in the region.

      August 13, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Reply
  6. FakestiniansRJordanians

    Turkiye must end its illegal brutal islamic terrorist military occupation of Cyprus. Get Turkiye the heck out of Cyprus! Turkiye is a rogue islamic terrorist nation. Boot Turkiye from NATO and boot Turkiye from Cyprus!

    August 11, 2012 at 8:41 am | Reply
    • James Kip

      I think you need to be booted from this forum, you are such an ignorant person, you have no idea whats going on in the world or any idea about what happened in the past. Because of people like you terror will survive.You are the fuel that terror runs on, people like you, no matter what country they are from.

      August 11, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Reply
    • SelimTheSot

      I think you need to be booted from this forum, you are such an ignorant person, you have no idea whats going on in the world or any idea about what happened in the past. Because of people like you terror will survive.You are the fuel that terror runs on, people like you.

      August 13, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Reply
    • Bulent

      FOR HEAVEN"S SAKE CNN can you kindly remove this low-life Turk-hating propagandist from this board who has nothing other than poisonous hatred to post here?

      August 18, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Reply
  7. rightospeak

    interesting. Turkey needs nuclear power plants for its energy needs ,but Iran by doing it is a bad guy. Will Turkey not want nuclear bomb to defend itself against Israel ? They are not cozy friends from what I know.

    August 11, 2012 at 10:06 am | Reply
    • Lance

      Just because the state heads are having a dick measuring contest doesn't mean that the people feel the same. I highly doubt Israel and Turkey will ever fight. Turkey is still one of the few allies Israel has in that small section in the world and vice versa.

      August 12, 2012 at 4:32 am | Reply
  8. krm1007 ©™

    The denuclearization of South Asia (Subcontinent) particularly India is imperative.
    Quid pro quo transfer of nuclear technology by USA to third world countries such as India needs to be opposed on moral grounds. Billions of people live in that neighborhood and would be at risk from such catastrophes which I am sure the American people would not like to be a party to. We are all well aware that that region is prone to floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, and of course terrorism placing such nuclear installations at tremendous risks. US Congress is urged to reconsider and cancel all the agreements for the transfer of such technologies due “Force Majeure”.

    August 11, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Reply
  9. Cow in a Bottle ©

    Why doesn't India use cow dung fuel for power generation and perhaps export to Turkey also. Such indigenous solutions are the need of the day in line with Green Revolution.

    August 11, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Reply
  10. deniz boro

    I am mad mad west when the wind is southernly/ I know a hawk from a handsaw.... 🙂 What is the big deal guys? Was it right on the target?

    August 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Reply
  11. deniz boro

    I wander what hit the superstructure/infrastructure into taking such rapid, unviable and well actually stupidly urgently rash action. It does seem a bit like deliria and almost stampede. But it did happen. It brings to mind "What caused them to stampade?" Surely not the Known energy deals of the world...Or is there a party who is getting tooo panicky to ....Well, the Christians know about the shephards and the fold.

    August 11, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  12. Ekram

    Hey Falkistinian, I agree with you that Turkiye should leave Cyprus but how about west and their subservient arabs and Turkiye leaving Syria and Iran alone? Is it okay that we in the west provide weapons and so called communication support to the rebels so they can effectively kill innocent people in Syria? I don't think so.....we can't use double standard here regardless of whoever is at fault in this war of atrocities! We are quick to jump on blaming Russia and China for vetoing secuity resolutions but no critisizm of helping us rebels behave as they are killing machine.....why? I think we don't like Syrian government because it doesn't toe the western line. Involvement of some arab countries, I believe, is delibrate by us because they could fight our war there......it also serves their fanatic purpose of spreading wahabism throughout the region! Syrian uprising is no arab spring started by Syrians instead it is created by outsiders.

    August 11, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Reply
  13. Odum Bilhirami

    Cyprus, Greece et al are pimples on the b@lls of this world and irrelevant. Turkey is a regional power and if they play their hands right can become an Islamic power after Pakistan. To do that they need to get away from American clutches that is keeping them back.

    August 11, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Reply
    • Koullis Peratopoulos

      hmmm, that's kinda funny...w/o the American dollars that Turkey receives each year from the US, Turkey would not have any power or economy to speak of...get with the times and read between the lines....

      August 13, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Reply
      • SelimTheSot

        Hey Koullis, you got it wrong way around buddy... You are mixing up the billions of Euros in aid for Greece with Turkey... You need to check your facts and post the evidence... May be this helps for you to get some things straight when you post next 😉
        "The U.S. government gave Greece $362 million in 1949, and U.S. aid to Greece generally remained over $100 million annually until 1998. The aid was at times controversial, since it supported authoritarian governments in Greece from the 1940s to early 1960s, as well as the 1967–1974 military junta. Aid to Turkey was $117 million in 1949, $259 million in 1952, and remained in the hundreds of millions annually until 1998.."
        PS Feel free to check Wikipedia and learn some facts 😉

        August 13, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
      • Bulent

        Koullis, the ignoramus, from the 'Banana Republic of the EU called Grease" FYI Turkey is on its own and does not receive $$$ from the US or anybody else. You must have confused Turkey for pauper Greece who while consuming billions of EU funds over the years contributed NOTHING in return to the EU culminating in the current 'Greek tragey' of a collapsed Greek economy?

        August 18, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Diren Yardimli

      After Pakistan? Have you got any clue where Pakistan and Turkey is placed in any development index? Turkey is a NIC (newly industrialized country) where Pakistan is on the brink of collapse. Pakistan has almost no industry whatsoever, where Turkey is exporting cars, computers and TV sets to every country in the world, and mostly to Europe. Turkey is a flourishing democracy, where Pakistan is ridden with a fundamentalist Islamic notion that is ripping the country apart. Putting Turkey and Pakistan on the same plate is an interesting pro-Pakistani propaganda.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:53 am | Reply
  14. Paul

    Turkey is a country of tremendous human potential, but it will never be truly realized until it fully respects international law and adopts real democratic reforms for all of its people, including equal rights for ethnic and religious minorities and women, and greater freedom of the press.

    August 12, 2012 at 2:04 am | Reply
    • Lance

      Get rid of the AKP and the current religious nut jobs in charge and things would improve drastically.

      August 12, 2012 at 4:33 am | Reply
      • Izmir Ted

        Get rid of the fanatic secularist CHP, and their outdated Kemalist mindset. Thankfully they can never win an election 🙂

        September 5, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Durmuş Ali Öner

      Women have rights in turkey, we are not one of those Arabic country's you see on Tv.Women cant drive cars in Arabia, women dont have to wear head scarfs if they dont want to.Come and see yourself.The government is nothing far then right, if more than %50 vote for the current government you can say nothing.We didn't say anything when you voted for the war lover bush, which killed thousands of people in a country most Americans didn't know on the map.Just for what?A booming economy?Oil? you answer me. if you want to talk about our issues get rid of your own ones.Akp is a party which is like the Democratic Party which has religious views.We were one of the country's which the Economic Crisis didn't hurt, so as my point of view you don't even have the slightest opinion about turkey go online and read Turkeys news in English, you'll understand my friend

      September 8, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Reply
  15. Joseph McCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007 ©™/Joe Collins/J. Foster Dulles/Marine5484

    I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti American, anti GB, anti semite, anti India, anti modern anything because I am a good moooooslem. I steal people's monikers because I am so ashamed of myself and post the most stupid comment. When people get angry with me, I claim insanity. I am the same guy.

    August 18, 2012 at 8:52 am | Reply
  16. buy flat screen tv

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    August 18, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  17. Durmuş Ali Öner

    I really don't understand you people, if Indians wanted to take back their lands you wouldn't let them would you?the answer is you wouldn't you would probably murder them all like you did in the past.Turkey is not invading Cyprus, The Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus is an independent country, Northern Cyprus has its own government which is elected by the people, anyway back on the pkk issue.Pkk is trying to take the lands we fought against the brits, the french, the russians we payed the price of our land by blood, millions of Turks fought for their independence you actually don't think we will give our lands away? Pkk is a terrorist group which is supported by countries which has no relation to kurds, i have dozens of kurd friends here in turkey and none of them want Kurdistan, why? Because like the us we are a multi nation country, we call us brothers etc.Kurdistan is only wanted by pkk not by the people for the people... A nuclear reactor would be nice in turkey, but don't forget there is always a risk that it can blow, and another question when France has nearly 60, Russia has 33, the Uk has 15, why shouldn't we?Why should be paying high prices when we can produce it at home.With all respect DAÖ İstanbul,Turkey

    September 8, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Reply

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