With transfers of nuclear technology and know-how there is also the concern of proliferation. In the Akkuyu deal, points out American Nuclear Society blogger Dan Yurman, Turkey will avoid the most controversial parts of the fuel cycle which are linked to proliferation and bomb-building. "Keep in mind that with the Russians, Turkey is not going to develop enrichment or fuel-reprocessing facilities. If they do the same with their other two potential power stations then their hands are clean," he notes.
Washington has been largely silent so far. The State Department declined to comment on Turkey's plan for reactors or the Russian deal for this story and has not made any official or public comment. "You can hardly hear any open criticism from the U.S.," says Pamir. But, he adds, "If you flirt with the Russians it can be seen as a dangerous liaison." (In the late 1990s the Clinton administration sanctioned four Russian entities for allegedly sharing nuclear and missile technology with Iran. Those sanctions were lifted in 2004).
"We've never objected to Turkey pursuing civilian nuclear power options because they've not -- unlike Iran for instance -- been in violation of their NPT agreement," says former Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman. He says Turkey's solid track record has meant there's been little concern over country's goals. But, he adds, "That could all change with a nuclear Iran. In fact, I think it would change. My own judgment is that although for the most part I think Turkey is motivated by a genuine interest in developing civilian nuclear power, the context has shifted. You now have to consider their pursuit of reactor deals not just with Russia but also with South Korea as a potential long-term hedging strategy against a possible proliferated Middle East."
While Turkey is on record in opposition to a nuclear-armed Iran, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his support for Iran's civilian energy program earlier this year, saying that Turkey "has always clearly supported the nuclear positions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and will continue to firmly follow the same policy in the future" -- prompting a thank you from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose controversial Russian-completed Bushehr power plant reached full capacity on Aug. 31.
Meanwhile, Russia is refining its sales pitch. It wants to sell reactors all over the world -- part of a plan announced by Rosatom chief Sergey Kirienko to double output at home and triple global sales by 2030. It's unclear where Turkey will turn next if and when it inks a deal for a second plant. But Brookings' Massy predicts any further plants won't be Russian. While the electricity from Akkuyu would be coming from a domestic source, "it's not really diversification from Russia if Russia is building, owning, operating and financing, their nuclear power plant," he argues.
Still, for now, Russia's nuclear package is a tough one to beat. During his first presidency, Vladimir Putin signed controversial legislation allowing Russia to import and permanently store another country's spent nuclear fuel. This is a deal vendors from other countries may not be able to provide, presenting a spent fuel problem that Turkey will eventually have to face and which nuclear opponents will likely stress going forward. Disappointingly for activists, the Fukushima disaster hasn't slowed Turkey's desire for reactors or Russia's aim to be the go-to country for the world's nuclear newcomers.
As Putin said less than year after Fukushima, "There's a rebirth, a renaissance of the nuclear sphere taking place right now," and Russia plans to be right there in the thick of it.