50 years on: concrete progress at Akkuyu

3 July 2018

Turkey cannot be accused of rushing into nuclear power. Studies on nuclear plant construction started in 1965 and a site licence was awarded for Akkuyu, Mersin province, on the Mediterranean coast, in 1976. But construction has only got underway recently. On 3 April a ceremony was held at Akkuyu to mark the start of placing of reactor building basemat concrete (“first nuclear safety concrete”) for unit 1 of a 4 x VVER-1200 power plant to be supplied by Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom – witnessed via video link by presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdog ̆an, as well as by around 500 people at the site. The laying of first nuclear safety concrete is normally taken to be the start of construction for a nuclear power plant project.

The plan is to achieve operation of the first unit by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the republic of Turkey, with the other three units coming into operation by 2026 (and meeting about 10% of Turkey’s electricity needs) – at a total budgeted cost of $20 billion (cheap relative to, say, the UK’s Hinkley Point C PWR).

Erdogan noted that, between 2003 and 2017, the Turkish economy had grown on average by 5.8% per annum, and in 2017 by a remarkable 7.4%. “As the country strives to become one of the ten richest countries in the world, energy supplies will be crucial and the new nuclear power plant of great importance...currently in 16 countries, some 55 nuclear units are under construction and today we can say that Akkuyu...is the 56th.”

Two VVER-1200 pressurised water reactors (sharing many similarities but of different designs, having been developed by different organisations within the Russian nuclear industry) are currently in operation, one at Novovoronezh (unit 6 at that site), which went into commercial operation in 2016, and one at Leningrad (unit 1 of phase II at that station, phase I consisting of four RBMK-1000s), which was synchronised to the grid on 9 March 2018. The Akkuyu design is based on that of Novovoronezh 6.

Akkuyu project development/ implementation is the responsibility of a special-purpose entity, JSC Akkuyu Nuclear, a subsidiary of JSC Rusatom Energo International (REIN), which is the international arm of Rosatom, charged with the export of Russian nuclear power technology (and also, for example, working on the planned Hanhikivi VVER-1200 unit in Finland).

The Akkuyu project is financed by Russia on a BOO (build-own-operate) scheme, under which it will also manage the project and act as power plant operator, with a 15 year power purchase agreement. Akkuyu is believed to the world’s first nuclear power plant project being implemented on this co-investment model, with Rosatom noting that JSC Akkuyu Nuclear is not only responsible for safety during the construction and operation of the nuclear power plant, but is also “invested first-hand in the economic efficiency of the future station as its owner and the operating organisation.” According to the intergovernmental co- operation agreement, the commissioning of the first power unit must take place no later than seven years after the issuance of all construction permits by the Turkish government. Final permits were issued in March 2018, signalling the start of construction proper.

JSC Akkuyu is currently 100% Rosatom owned but additional shareholders are being sought. According to the intergovernmental agreement, at least 51% of shares in the finished project should belong to Russian companies and up to 49% of shares can be available for sale to outside investors. Negotiations with potential investors continue.

JSC Akkuyu Nuclear has what is called a “strategic investment” certificate, issued under a law that came into force on 27 March 2018, which gives it tax benefits and customs duty exemptions, and greatly helps the economics of the project.

The architect engineer is Moscow Atomenergoproekt and the general construction contractor is JSC Atomstroyexport (both companies being part of Rosatom’s engineering division). Rosenergoatom (the power plant operating arm of Rosatom) is described as “technical customer”, the Kurchatov Institute as “scientific supervisor”, while InterRAO-WorleyParsons is acting as consultant.

The design includes both passive and active safety systems, and the design life is 60 years, with the possibility of prolongation by 20 years more.

A contract was signed in August 2017 under which AAEM, a joint venture between Atomenergomash (yet another piece of Rosatom) and General Electric (which took over Alstom’s steam turbine activities in 2015), will design and supply the conventional island and equipment for Akkuyu, including Arabelle half speed steam turbines, Gigatop generators, moisture separator reheaters and condensers, with deliveries due in 2021-2024. Unique among large nuclear steam turbines, the Arabelle steam turbine has single-flow high pressure (HP) and intermediate pressure (IP) sections, in a combined HP/IP casing to reduce overall length.

The main designer (ie, architect engineer) for the recently synchronised Leningrad VVER-1200 unit is St Petersburg Atomenergoproekt (as opposed to Moscow Atomenergoproekt in the case of Novovoronezh 6) and the general construction contractor is JSC Titan-2. The Leningrad plant, situated in Sosnovy Bor, on the Gulf of Finland, 40 km to the west of St Petersburg, was the first power station to employ RBMK-1000 reactors (subsequently deployed at Chernobyl). The Leningrad RBMK units will be phased out once the new VVER-1200 units (“Phase II” of the station) enter operation. A second VVER-1200 is under construction at the Leningrad site, while two more are planned. 

Akkuyu Completed VVER-1200 at Leningrad (photo: Rosenergoatom)
Akkuyu Ceremony to mark laying of “first nuclear safety concrete”, at Akkuyu (photo: Rosatom)
Akkuyu Successful VVER-1200 grid synchronisation at Leningrad, 9 March 2018 (photo: Rosatom)
Akkuyu Leningrad VVER-1200 control room, grid synchronisation day, 9 March 2018 (photo: Rosenergoatom)

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