ANKARA Russia's State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom) won approval from Turkey's energy watchdog on Thursday to go ahead with building its $20 billion Akkuyu nuclear power plant in southern Turkey.
The project to construct four nuclear reactors has repeatedly run into delays, including being briefly halted after Turkey downed a Russian jet near the Syrian border in November 2015. Ties have since normalised between the two countries and work on the plant has resumed.
It is now expected to be completed by 2023 and should meet 6-7 percent of Turkey's electricity demand once it is fully operational, energy watchdog EPDK said in a statement.
Rosatom has sold several nuclear reactors to developing countries under a model by which Russia finances, builds and operates the nuclear plant and sells power to its customer - a model that has also raised questions about Russia using energy policy as a means to political ends.
EPDK said it had given Rosatom's project company Akkuyu Nukleer AS a 49-year production license.
Dependant on imports for almost all of its energy, Turkey has embarked on an ambitious nuclear programme, commissioning Rosatom in 2013 to build the four 1,200 megawatt (MW) reactors.
With Turkey's energy imports costing about $50 billion annually and its energy demand among the fastest-growing in Europe, Ankara wants at least 5 percent of its electricity generation to come from nuclear energy in under a decade, cutting dependency on natural gas largely bought from Russia.
Rosatom initially pledged to have the first of the four reactors in Akkuyu ready by 2019 before it suffered delays.
EPDK said on Thursday that Akkuyu Nukleer had agreed to accelerate construction so that all four reactors would be built by 2023, the centenary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic, rather than 2025 as previously agreed by Russia and Turkey.
(Reporting by Orhan Coskun; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Humeyra Pamuk and Susan Fenton)