ISTANBUL — The presidents of Turkey and Russia remotely inaugurated the construction of a third nuclear reactor at the Akkuyu power plant in southern Turkey Wednesday, vowing to continue their close cooperation.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the plant would launch Turkey into the "league of nuclear energy countries" and called it a "symbol of Turkish-Russian cooperation."
Russia is building Turkey's first nuclear power plant on the Mediterranean coast in Mersin province. The two countries signed a cooperation agreement in 2010 and began construction in 2018.
Turkey — whose electricity production is based on gas-burning plants and hydroelectric units — is largely dependent on power imports, buying natural gas from Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, among others.
Nuclear power is a "strategic step" for energy security, Erdogan said.
Last summer, Turkey announced that it had discovered 405 billion cubic meters of natural gas in the Black Sea, and is prospecting for hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean amid tensions with Greece and Cyprus over maritime rights.
Energy Minister Fatih Donmez, said the Akkuyu plant would fulfill about 10% of domestic electricity needs. Erdogan said the share of locally produced and renewable energy resources has reached 63.7% in established power networks.
Erdogan said the first reactor would become operational in 2023, to coincide with the centennial of the modern Turkish state. A total of four reactors are planned.
Russia's Rosatom State Corporation holds a 99.2% stake in the project, whose total cost is estimated at 20 billion U.S. dollars, according to the plant's website.
The Turkish president also said cooperation between Ankara and Moscow played a "key role" in regional stability.
"We have had the opportunity to see the results of Turkish-Russian dialogue in many fields, including in Libya, in Nagorno-Karabakh, in Syria," Erdogan said. The two countries back opposing sides in these conflicts.
Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at the event via video-conference Wednesday.
Speaking from Moscow, Putin called the nuclear plant a "truly flagship project."
Turkey's projects for nuclear power in the earthquake-prone region have triggered concern from neighboring Greece and Cyprus — where both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot environmental groups have voiced strong opposition.