Yatagan sulphur dioxide cloud hits Aegean again

Noxious sulphurous emissions from Yatagan, one of a triangle of three ageing Turkish power stations, are once again causing respiratory illness and confining local residents to their homes.

Turkey’s Mugla province, which includes Aegean beach resorts, is served by three troublesome coal fired power stations at Yatagan, situated some 50 miles (80 km) from Bodrum, Yenikoy, and Gokava, about 30 miles (50 km) from Marmaris. The three power stations burn around 40,000 tons of generally poor quality coal and lignite a day between them, discharging around 13,000 tons of bottom ash and 150 tons of fly ash, which contains high levels of uranium. In 1994, the nearby city of Mugla underwent a radiation alarm due to heavy clouds of uranium enriched gases that had drifted in from the three surrounding plants.

Recently the level of sulphur dioxide in the air at Yatagan, which supplies power to tourist resorts and the industrial cities of Denizli, Izmir and Aydin, has reached 3,550 microgrammes per cubic metre, nearly 10 times the legal safety limit of 400 microgrammes. Local authorities warned the 30,000 residents to stay inside and keep doors and windows closed. A variety of medical complaints, mainly respiratory, have been reported, and the mayor of Yatagan has alleged that central government ‘has failed to attach any importance to the issue.’

A month earlier, following an earlier incident, Turkey’s energy ministry confirmed that the Yatagan plant was shut, due to air pollution. Temperature inversion exacerbated the problem, trapping the emissions close to the ground and in the narrow valleys around the power station. The stoppage came as Turkey ran its thermal plants at full power to compensate for a spring drought that drastically cut power generation in hydro-electric plants in the east and south-east.

The same plant was also shut in May when sulphur dioxide smothered the city, prompting warnings to residents to stay indoors. Lack of wind and a temperature inversion kept the gas hovering over the area. Mehmet Hosoglu, the director of the plant, said that two units of the power plant had been shut down and a third would also be closed if the situation continued. He reported that the plant would install control devices to prevent similar events in the future.

Greenpeace is campaigning against the illegal operation of the deadly triangle of three coal-powered power stations. The plants have been burning millions of tons of poor-quality coal containing unacceptably high percentages of sulphur and uranium. Local people are planning a series of protests against the central government for its perceived failure to act. Among these is a barefoot walk to the capital, Ankara, several hundred miles away.

“The Turkish state electricity board (TEAS) has been running the Yatagan plant since 1982 without any emission permits or controls,” says Greenpeace Mediterranean energy campaigner Melda Keskin. On June 20, 1996, these plants received an order of closure from the Aydin administrative court. Yet since then, the energy board has continued to operate the three plants.

Since the Yatagan plant started operating in 1982 an enormous amount of damage has been done. The problem was identified as early as 1985. The Turkish Forestry Ministry estimates that some 140 square miles (360 sq km) of local forest have been badly damaged by the pollution, for which it has claimed compensation from the Energy Ministry.

Filtration systems are also being installed, the first due to start operation on 18 January 2001, with two more due for installation in February and March. TEAS also claims that the pollution caused by the Yatagan plant will be completely eliminated when a new, $80 million desulphurisation plant comes into operation next year. However, environmentalists say the new plant will do nothing to remove non-sulphurous toxic emissions, which will still remain unacceptably high.

All three plants are up for privatisation under the Turkish government’s ambitious economic reform program. In 1996 the ministry held a tender to transfer operational rights to private entities for 20 years. The tender for Yatagan was provisionally awarded for $160 million to a consortium of Turkey’s Bayindir and Mimag and Britain’s National Power Plc.

National Power’s Annual report 1998 states that their “planned investment of around US $260 million in three power station projects in Turkey, for which exclusive negotiating rights have been won, is proceeding. These are for the 20-year operation of existing lignite-fired plants with associated mines at Yenikoy, Kemerkoy (1,050 MW) and Yatagan (630 MW) in association with Bayindir Holding, Mimag and Pacificorp Energy. National Power will invest US $200 million for a 42.5% stake in these projects.”

However when asked by edie on 14 December, the UK company, known since October 2000 as IPower, following a demerger, declined to comment on the track record of the plant. A spokesperson said that negotiations for a consortium including IPower, to take over operational and maintenance responsibility were in hand and that IPower would address pollution concerns if and when it becomes involved with responsibility for operating the plant.

In June 2000, IPower was awarded the right to build and operate a 700MW combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power plant in Ankara and to acquire (as part of a consortium) eight units and associated dedicated lignite coal mining interests at the Yatagan and Yenikoy/Kemerkoy power stations. IPower will operate the plants, and is expected to enter into a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with the Turkish Electricity Generating and Transmission Company (TEAS).

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