Turkey and China are taking steps to address rising domestic energy demand through the use of nuclear power.

In 2016, Turkey hosted the 23rd Annual World Energy Congress, the global flagship event of World Energy Council, where the theme was “embracing new frontiers.” At the event, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım announced Turkey’s goal of increasing nuclear energy to 10% of total Turkish power generation by 2023. Turkey’s most recent step towards this goal was the ratification of the Agreement for Cooperation between Turkey and China in the Use of Nuclear Energy for Peaceful Purposes (the “Turkey-China Nuclear Cooperation Agreement”),[1] which was signed on September 2, 2016, immediately before the World Energy Congress.

Turkey and China inked this Cooperation Agreement in 2012; however its ratification and publication had been pending for 4 years. This waiting period was considerably beneficial for Turkey, giving it the chance to approve a full-scope engineering survey regarding the first nuclear power plants (“NPP”) to be constructed in Akkuyu and Sinop in cooperation with Japan. The land allocation and the execution of an intergovernmental agreement (“IGA”) between Turkey and Japan were significant steps forward in developing expertise in the construction of NPPs in Turkey. Despite the government’s busy schedule with the Akkuyu and Sinop NPPs, the relationship between the Chinese and Turkish governments has improved, thanks to their endeavor to reinforce their nuclear partnership through official visits and correspondence.

Signing the Turkey-China Nuclear Cooperation Agreement in 2012 paved the way for the “tripartite” Memorandum of Understanding (“MoU”) on November 24, 2014 between (a) the Chinese State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation, (“SNPTC”); (b) Turkey’s state owned electricity generation company EÜAŞ (“EÜAŞ”); and (c) the US-based Westinghouse Electric Company (“Westinghouse”). The MoU provided exclusive negotiation rights to the SNPTC and Westinghouse for Turkey’s third nuclear power plant,[2] and Westinghouse and SNPTC prepared a report under EÜAŞ’s supervision where possible sites for the third NPP were assessed with respect to the technical parameters such as transmission infrastructure, on-site geological formations, and seismic activity levels. EÜAŞ and the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources are currently reviewing this report.[3] Even though this MoU grants exclusive negotiation rights to the SNPTC and Westinghouse, and moves them to the front of the line in terms of future competition, it does not constitute a definitive document for the negotiations for the third NPP. For that reason, the MoU constitutes a nonbinding sign of the parties’ common goal.

Following the execution of the MoU at the corporate level in June 2016, the current Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Berat Albayrak signed another MoU for the development of nuclear power technologies with Nur Bekri, the Director of China’s National Energy Administration. Albayrak and Bekri had a chance to further elaborate on the Turkish and Chinese governments’ intention to become partners in this field during G20 Summit held in China, and its sideline event, the G20 Energy Ministerial Meeting, which aimed to bring together key players in energy sector.[4]

The Grand National Assembly of the Republic of Turkey (“National Assembly”) ratified the Turkey-China Nuclear Cooperation Agreement in August 2016, giving it the force of law. This strongly demonstrates that Turkey aims to become self-sufficient in terms of energy supply by having its own NPPs. Cooperation areas stated in the said agreement such as research and development, training of nuclear engineers, and the exchange of qualified scientific and technical personnel also confirms Turkey’s intention to develop its own human resources in the long term in order to become a global competitor.

Turkey is already familiar with bilateral nuclear agreements. The legal framework for both the Akkuyu and Sinop nuclear power plants was set out by specific agreements for cooperation, i.e. bilateral treaties at the state level. These IGAs allowed the countries to build a legal regime to apply to a particular project which will provide exemptions from laws of general applicability with an intention to providing stability of legislation to the project in question. Another advantage of building a project-specific legal regime structure based on an international agreement is that Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution eliminates the risk of invalidation. The said article stipulates that international agreements are beyond constitutional challenge once the National Assembly ratifies them. The IGA often includes a host government agreement (“HGA”) in its annexes, to be signed by the project company and the host country’s officials. It usually spells out the exemptions to be granted to the project company in specific detail and is usually ratified by the government at the same time as the IGA.

Turkey employed the IGA-HGA structure for both the Akkuyu and Sinop NPP projects. With regards to the Akkuyu NPP, ratification of the Agreement for Cooperation in the Use of Nuclear Energy for Peaceful Purposes between Turkey and Russia[5] was officially announced on February 12, 2011, without an HGA appended to it. However, another international agreement governing the building and operation of an NPP on the Akkuyu site was concluded between Turkey and Russia instead.[6] From a legal perspective, it is expected that the IGA-HGA system would be the preferred legal framework for the third NPP since the Turkish government has a good track record of using this model for large-scale investment projects, such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline project. For Sinop, ratification of the Agreement for Cooperation in the Use of Nuclear Energy for Peaceful Purposes between Turkey and Japan[7] was published in the Official Gazette on April 22, 2014, and entered into force on May 23, 2015, together with the Memorandum of Cooperation and its appendix template HGA. Together, these agreements constitute the IGA between the two governments for the construction of Turkey’s second nuclear plant, to be established in Sinop.

While the entry into force of international agreements concerning nuclear energy issues continues at a rather increased pace, adoption of domestic laws by the National Assembly and/or authorized governmental authorities cannot keep pace with these intergovernmental arrangements. Current legislation in Turkey mainly focuses on rather technical matters, such as the equipment supply process, the approval of manufacturers, or the inventory principles of nuclear substances. On the other hand, establishment of an independent and competent authority to ensure safe and secure operations is another issue that Turkey has had to solve in order to reach its goals in this field. The 10th Development Plan Report of the Ministry of Development touched upon the need for an independent authority as well.[8] The government appears to be highly committed to overcome these issues in upcoming days in line with its future plans.