Turkey has made pursuing nuclear energy a priority. It is facing predicted energy shortfalls and a perceived threat from Iran. For VOA, Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul the program is raising concerns of internal safety, security and a regional arms race.
In the heart of Istanbul protesters demonstrate against nuclear power in Turkey.
The country appears set to become a key battleground over the future of nuclear power, according to Paul Horsemen, the Mediterranean campaign officer for Greenpeace, an environmental organization.
"Turkey is crucial in terms of being the first or the major entry point to developing nuclear power in this region," said Horsemen. "So its crucial that we persuade the Turkish government that nuclear energy is a dirty, old technology and especially in a region which is threatened with security and conflict and provides for major targets and we cannot deal with the waste etc."
But the government appears unconvinced.
A TV advertisement it is broadcasting across the country warns that Turkey is facing an energy gap that grows every year as the economy continues to expand at a record rate. Turkey has little indigenous energy reserves, being dependent on increasingly expensive imported gas and oil.
Following a meeting with business leaders, Energy Minister Hilmi Guler said nuclear energy has become a necessity.
"We have are own uranium reserves and we will be able to deal with the waste created by it," said Guler. "To meet the growing energy demands of Turkey, nuclear energy is a must, rather than a preference to Turkey."
The entire country is at risk of earthquakes, and many people in Turkey are concerned about possible damage to nuclear facilities.
This man's concerns about nuclear safety are typical on the streets of Istanbul.
"I am against nuclear power stations , because we saw dangers of nuclear power stations in other countries and you can never know when the earthquake hits. We live with that risk," he said.
Advocates of nuclear power argue modern reactors are more than capable of coping with the threat of earthquakes. But their are other concerns about Turkey's nuclear aspirations, including Iran's nuclear program.
Iran and Turkey have jockeyed for influence among neighboring countries for centuries and have powerful armies that have maintained a balance of power, according to retired Turkish General Aramgan Kuloglu, who heads the research group Strategi.
Kuloglu warns that Iranian nuclear aspirations could force Turkey into a difficult choice.
"We have a competition with Iran; we do not want to pass the regional control to Iran," said Kuloglu. "And also if Iran has more power from Turkey and maybe they can begin to regime export from Iran to Turkey."
"It is a danger also for Turkey. For that reason Turkey has to prevent this position in advance with the United States with the United Nations. But if Iran has such kind of weapon. In this case for creating the balance, Turkey needs nuclear weapons also," he added.
Analysts say with every step Iran takes towards a possible nuclear bomb, questions about Turkey's nuclear program grow.
Bilkent University Assistant Professor Mustafa Kibaroglu, an expert on nuclear proliferation, warns the region could be on the verge of a regional nuclear-arms race.
"If another country introduces nuclear weapons into the region [there] will be a chain reaction of chain reactions," said Kibaroglu. "It will really render the region into a very chaotic situation.
Turkey is a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and insists it has purely peaceful intentions.