Turkish regulators on Thursday granted Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation permission to build a four-reactor nuclear power plant in Akkuyu, which would be the country’s first commercial nuclear power plant and a significant step in the country’s strategy to domesticate its energy sector.

Currently, Turkey spends about $50 billion each year on imported energy with scant domestic production in play. Much of that money is spent on natural gas imported from Russia, which has caused skeptics to assume that the move towards a Russian-built nuclear power plant is as much a political move as it is smart energy policy.

Russia’s state-owned nuclear build corporation Rosatom has been gaining access to foreign energy markets with a hard-to-beat formula. Russia supplies the construction know-how, the design for the plants and the technology. It also supplies operators to run the plants in foreign lands, although often with plans to train technicians from the host country who then replace the Russian workers. In the meantime, Russia also finances the venture, offering long-term loans that do not have to be repaid until the power plants are
bringing in revenue.

To a host country, this amounts to adding nuclear power to their energy mix without going into huge debt to do so, because the plant is expected to pay for itself once it is operational.

Turkey’s electricity grid regulator, the Energy Market Regulatory Authority (EPDK) said that the four-unit Akkuyu plant with a generation capacity of 4800 MWe would meet the demand of about 6 percent to 7 percent of the country’s electricity demand. Construction is to start in 2018 with a completion date set for 2023.

Delays have already pushed back the completion date, which was originally set for 2019. That was bumped back to 2025. The long delays, however, prompted an agreement to accelerate construction, which will shorten construction by two years.

Turkey does not intend to stop there. Nor is Russia the only country that has attracted business from Turkey.

A French-Japanese consortium is expected to construct the country’s second nuclear power plant at Sinop, Turkey, while Chinese companies expect to build a third nuclear plant for the country using “U.S.-derived technology,” according to the World Nuclear Association.

Each of the proposed plants is planned for coastal towns in Turkey, leaving the interior of the arid country nuclear-plant-free. Akkuyu is a coastal town along the Mediterranean Sea on Turkey’s southern coast. Sinop and Igneada are towns on the northern coast along the Black Sea.