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Turkey: Securing Energy Supply with the West and Iran

Posted by Jill Marie Parillo and Kevin Reynolds on August 15, 2008

Turkey would be a great partner for a nuclear energy supply arrangement from the West, but growing instabilities in Western relations and on Turkey's southern Iraqi boarder, may turn Turkey to Iran for increased energy security. The United States must accept the concerns and needs associated with energy security of nations like Turkey, to better manage the evolving global nuclear fuel cycle.

Turkey and GNEP

The United States would like to bring Turkey into a nuclear fuel supply arrangement through its Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), but Turkey has yet to change its "observer status" in the Partnership. Launched in 2006 by the Bush Administration, GNEP looks to create a system of supplier and receiver states of nuclear fuel cycle services. Supplier states in this initiative would supply nuclear fuel to receiver states. Receiver states would find it in their best interest to forgo the production of nuclear fuel with dual-use technology domestically in exchange for a reliable and affordable nuclear fuel supply.

US officials met with Turkish officials in an effort to get Turkey to sign on to GNEP as a full fledged member at the next GNEP ministerial meeting in Paris this fall. Turkey is withholding membership until they are fully assured that it will help increase their nuclear energy capacity, rather than curb their ability to diversify energy sources. The passage of a US-Turkey nuclear trade agreement in Congress June 2 may give Turkey more incentive to join GNEP (Congress did not pass a Resolution of Disapproval making the agreement into law). The agreement will allow for the United States to transfer nuclear energy technology and fuel to Turkey. However, Turkey may decide not to join, if the United States tries to force Turkey to change its improving Iranian relations.

Turkey, Europe and NATO

If Turkey joins the EU, it will have access to nuclear fuel through the Euratom Supply Agency. However, with the election of French President Nicholas Sarkozy, the likelihood of Turkish EU membership severely decreased. During his presidential bid, Sarkozy said the EU should have limits, and "Turkey has no place inside the European Union." Turkey would not trust a nuclear fuel supply from EU partners with such uncertainty in EU relations.

Uncertainty in relations with NATO could also lead Turkey to mistrust a nuclear fuel supply. Turkey mistrusts NATO's willingness to provide needed security assurances after NATO refused to provide Turkey with Patriot missiles to counter potential Iraqi missile attacks in 1991. NATO eventually agreed to provide the missile defense, but in Turkey's opinion, it was withdrawn before security was assured.

Turkey and Iran

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with Turkish President Abdullah Gül August 15 to discuss a variety of issues including energy. Against Washington's effort to isolate Iran, Turkey hopes to invest $3.5 billion to develop three natural gas fields in Iran's South Pars region and to develop a new gas pipeline from Iran. The August 15th meeting lead to several agreements for cooperation, including one on energy, but the pipeline deal is still in the works.

Turkey is another good example of how nations will look for a variety of partners to assure energy security. With insecurity on Turkey's southern boarder due to Iraqi Kurdish rebels, and weak Western relations, Turkey may join a fuel cycle initiative like GNEP, where the West has deemed a certain set of nations as safe suppliers, but may also solidify relations with nations like Iran to increase security of supply. For this reason, the United States should stop trying to create a system of nuclear haves and have-nots and decrease the prestige associated with being a nuclear insider in initiatives like GNEP. To start, the United States could change their fuel cycle initiative into an open global forum for discussing how to meet the needs and concerns associated with the spread of nuclear energy of all nations. Turkey and Iran could then play a role in discussing ways to better manage the spread of nuclear energy and the spread of dual-use technology.

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