(Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Moscow’s burgeoning energy and wider economic ties with Ankara on Thursday as he and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan took part virtually in a ceremony inaugurating Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.
Russia’s state nuclear energy company Rosatom built the Akkuyu nuclear power plant and Thursday’s ceremony saw the first loading of nuclear fuel into the first power unit at the site in Turkey’s southern Mersin province.
“This is a flagship project,” Putin said via videolink. “It brings both mutual economic benefits and, of course, helps to strengthen the multi-faceted partnership between our two states.”
Putin described Akkuyu as “the largest nuclear construction project in the world” and noted that it would mean Turkey having to import less Russian natural gas in the future.
“But Turkey will enjoy the advantage of a country that has its own nuclear energy, and nuclear energy, as you know, is one of the cheapest,” he added.
Erdogan thanked Putin for his support on Akkuyu, adding: “We will take steps to build a second and a third nuclear power plant in Turkey as soon as possible.”
Turkey is a NATO member but Erdogan has managed to maintain cordial relations with Putin despite the war in Ukraine. Last year, Turkey helped to broker, along with the United Nations, a deal that allowed the resumption of Ukrainian grain exports from Black Sea ports.
In a phone call before the ceremony at Akkuyu, Erdogan and Putin also discussed the situation in Ukraine and the Black Sea grain deal, the Turkish leader’s office said.
Putin, keen to build new markets for Russian hydrocarbons outside Europe, traditionally Moscow’s main customer, reiterated his call for Turkey to become a regional gas hub “to supply natural gas to interested foreign buyers at market prices”.
The $20 billion, 4,800 megawatt (MW) project at Akkuyu entails the construction of four reactors that will allow Turkey to join the small club of nations with civil nuclear energy.
“We plan to complete the physical launch (of the plant) next year… in order to be able to produce electricity on a steady basis from 2025, as we agreed,” Andrei Likhachev, head of Rosatom, said in Mersin before the ceremony.
Erdogan also joined Thursday’s ceremony by videolink rather than travelling there due to poor health that forced him to cancel campaign rallies this week. Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said Erdogan was feeling better on Thursday.