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Nuclear Turkey

Interview: Saroja CoelhoOctober 29, 2013

Germany is making a mistake in turning its back on nuclear power, says Turkish energy expert Hüseyin Bagci. He believes nuclear power offers Turkey freedom from dependence on imported oil and gas.

Portrait of Prof. Dr. Hüseyin Bagci (Photo: Klaus Weddig)
Image: Klaus Weddig

Dr. Hüseyin Bagci told DW that Turkey's energy indepence is about to expand. The country is turning to nuclear power and expects to benefit from cheaper oil prices as the US shale gas revolution pushes global fuel prices down.

DW: Why are oil and gas prices so high in Turkey?

Hüseyin Bagci: Turkey is totally dependent on oil and gas and the population is increasing every year. The more people you have, the more you have to pay for the energy. Turkey's population is increasing by a million people each year.

In spite of this, Turkey is extremely important in energy strategy and security for Europe.

Turkey is a hub of energy for Europe. The South Stream gas pipeline as well as TAPI, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, will be very important to bring Caucasian, central Asian, even Middle East oil to Europe, which is very much depending on oil from this part of the world.

Technicians staks in front of a gas pumping station (Photo: Kerim Okten)
Turkey has become a key route for major gas pipeline projectsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Despite this important role as a transfer state, Turkey would like to have some degree of energy independence. How is this related to its nuclear strategy?

Turkey will always buy energy from outside but there is one option, the nuclear power plant policy. But it will take another 10 years until Turkey has nuclear energy, so for the next 10 years Turkey will be depending on imported energy. But what Turkey can do is diversify its energy needs, try to buy from the international markets cheaper or go into projects where Turkey can make use of it so that the prices will be lower and cheaper.

In the EU, countries are backing away from nuclear power, like Germany with its "Energiewende" policy. Meanwhile, Turkey is moving towards opening its own nuclear power plants. Is there any tension forming there in the relationship with the EU?

I don't think so, because several European companies are also involved in it. The environmental protests will of course take place. Turkey is going to experience the Greenpeace movement, what we had in Germany 30 years ago.

Either you close the energy demands or you take the protests very seriously and stop it like Germany has done. I think Germany has done wrong in a way, they will go back after 2020 definitely, otherwise Germany cannot go like this. They need all their energy, but for Turkey, to go to nuclear power is a strategy which is already due, it is already late. Turkey should have had it at least 20 years ago. So what Turkey is trying to do is just to close the gap which is now getting wider and wider because the energy demand is increasing.

The atomic power plant in Philippsburg (Baden-Württemberg).
Turkey is building its first nuclear plant, while Germany is switching from nuclear power to renewable energyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

You have talked about what you call crazy ideas or crazy strategies from Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Can you tell me what you meant?

First of all, Turkey is trying to have nuclear energy first, then oil and gas and then solar energy. At the same time Turkey is a sunny country, we have a lot of sunshine and also water dams and hydraulic energy. But the only problem is once again the population and energy demand is increasing more and more.

If Turkey were to have, say, 40 million people, we can say what energy the country will need. But now we are 75 million, in 15 years time we will be 90 million, so the more the population increases the more you need energy. We can only hope that the international oil and gas prices are going down with this shale gas revolution.

I think it is one option that Turkey can buy cheaper oil and gas in the future, because the Middle East countries will not be selling their oil and gas to America or to other countries. So Turkey can use its distance, as it's not too far to the Middle East, and of course the cash payer can get much cheaper oil and gas. But today it's very, very expensive.

I just want to clarify, what you mean is that the shale gas revolution will reduce the needs from countries that now make heavy demands on the Middle Eastern markets and by reducing that demand, the price in the Middle East will drop?

Exactly this. Turkey can only hope that the oil revolution is getting other countries less dependent on the Middle East. The fewer countries depending on the Middle East, the better for Turkey.

Hüseyin Bagci is a professor of international relations at the Middle East Technical University, Turkey. He was a key speaker at the Energy Security Forum in Frankfurt earlier this year.