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the October 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48, No.
in Power Vacuum
Huseyin Kandemir and Debbie Lovatt,
Gemini News Service, London, England, July 13, 2001
pollution and a spate of health problems are prompting a spirited
citizens fight against one of Turkeys largest coal-burning
power plants, which has been spewing pollutants into the air over
popular tourist resorts along the Aegean coast for more than two decades.
country (Photo courtesy of Berkeley University)
All my family members and I generally feel very low, and sometimes
we cant even breathe properly when the air pollution level increases,
says Dr. Bahdiye Gurkan, who lives in the village of Yatagan. The
power plant is situated on its outskirts.
When construction began on the coal-fired plant in 1976, only 4,000
residents lived in Yatagan. Today, 20,000 people live around the 630-megawatt
plant, which is considered outdated and inefficient by modern standardsand
poses a major threat to everyones health.
Gurkan and another resident sued the operators, the state-owned Turkish
Electricity Co., for health problems caused by the plant. On June
21, the local court ordered the operators to pay a fine to the pair
in a landmark decision.
The victory, Gurkan says, sends a message that residents have an ally
in the courts. That may be so, but the courts seem powerless to enforce
their decisions. Turkish courts have ordered the coal-burning station
shut many times, but the rulings have been ignored. Last year, the
local court in Aydin, about 50 miles from Yatagan, ruled that the
power station must cease operation because it did not have official
permission to run. Turkey has 14 such power stations operating without
The Turkish Council of Ministers has allowed the Yatagan station to
continue operating because of an energy shortage. It has even formalized
the arrangement through a decree to keep the plant open. This has
fired up environmentalists, local officials, and residents.
The Council of Ministers has been ignoring the court verdict,
and in this way they have damaged both human health and the environment,
says lawyer Ahmet Okyay, a member of the Izmir Bar Associations
Also on the warpath is the international environmental group Greenpeace,
which has campaigned since 1994 to shut down the Yatagan power plant.
Yatagan power station is the strongest symbol of the Turkish
governments foul energy policy, says Melda Keskin, head
of Greenpeaces Turkey branch. This station is not only
poisoning the environment and violating public health with its smoke,
but also there are high levels of uranium in the coal used to fire
it. The people in the area are under a serious health threat.
Local residents complain about not being able to breathe healthy air.
They refer to the thermal power station as a torture center.
Yatagan municipal Mayor Hasmet Isik says the number of people suffering
from lung problems and cancer has increased dramaticallyalthough
his charge is not reflected in official government reports. More than
10 people have died of lung cancer in the past two years, he says.
The true number of people in the area who have lost their lives
because of lung cancer is not reflected in the reports, Isik
claims. The doctors in the official hospital change the cause
of death on the death certificate, giving it as a heart attack or
some other reason. Isik says the power station has also damaged
1,200 acres of fruit-growing land, destroyed olive cultivation, and
decimated honey production. He blames acid rain caused by the pollution.
Efforts to reduce the pollution have failed. A chimney gas refinery
system, installed on Jan. 18 to curb emissions, exploded two days
later and has not worked properly since. In June, two of the stations
three units were temporarily shut down three times by authorities
after spewing out dangerously high levels of sulfur dioxide into the
air. The same thing happened on July 1, and the station was closed
for a daybringing to 51 the number of times the plant has been
forced to shut down because of pollution since the beginning of 2000.
In the latest incident, the district administration warned people
not to venture outside their homes unless absolutely necessary until
the pollution cleared. A heavy temperature inversion caused the level
of sulfur dioxide to increase almost 25 times beyond its safety limit,
most notably in the nearby Yenikoy and Sahinler villages. The area
was saved only when a strong wind dispersed the pollutants.
It averted a great danger, says Mehmet Okur, head official
of Yatagan district. God has protected the people living in
Yatagan and its nearby villages.
The gravity of the situation is not lost on the local mayor,
who is rallying residents to fight the operation. We will
have a surprise for those authorities who are not interested
in the plight of Yatagan, he says. If necessary,
we will hold rallies or launch hunger strikes in order to have
our voices heard.