Turkey launched construction of its first nuclear power plant on Tuesday, which the government hopes will open a new era of greater energy self-sufficiency. But the ceremony faced protests from environmentalists.
Dozens of environmental protesters converged on the iron gates of the site in Akkuyu, on the shores of the Mediterranean, as the launch ceremony ended.
Video footage showed that they managed to lock official delegations, security officers and journalists inside the site. The protesters were only dispersed when a water cannon was used against them.
The government is hailing the power station - which will have four power units with a capacity of 1200 MW each - as a major development for the country - and is hoping the Russian-built plant, the first of three planned nuclear sites, will reduce energy imports.
"Development cannot happen in a country without nuclear energy," said Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz at a ceremony attended by the head of Russian nuclear energy corporation Rosatom, Sergei Kiriyenko.
Yildiz vehemently rejected the notion that Turkey was entering the nuclear power sector at the wrong time - especially after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011 and with Germany phasing out its nuclear power.
"All sectors (of the industry) have learned lessons from Fukushima. Akkuyu power station has also learned lessons," he said.
The Akkuyu plant has become a major issue for environmentalists, who have raised concerns about safety issues and the decision to build the power station in an area rich in wildlife.
Environmental campaign group Greenpeace in January lodged a complaint in court against the awarding of an environmental impact license to the plant and says it should not be built.
"Turkey is not ready to build nuclear reactors - the country is still missing the key pieces of necessary legislation," Jan Beranek, the director of Greenpeace Mediterranean, told news agency AFP.
He said that the seismic assessment had been "totally inadequate" and accused the authorities of ignoring issues related to radioactive spent fuel which risked being transported through Istanbul on the Bosphorus Strait.
"There is no need for the country to set on a path of unpredictable nuclear hazards and this outdated, yet very expensive technology," he added.
bk/hg (AFP, dpa)