* Rosatom in race to complete first Akkuyu reactor by 2023
* Heavy core catcher to be installed in unit 1 this autumn
* Platform ready for four reactors, port operational (Adds Komarov comments, background)
By Geert De Clercq
LONDON, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Russia’s Rosatom has won a licence to start building the second of four planned nuclear reactors in Turkey and is preparing to install the first steel equipment on the first unit this autumn, Deputy CEO Kirill Komarov said on Friday.
The $20 billion project to build four Russian-design reactors in Akkuyu on the Mediterranean is one of the largest nuclear new-build projects worldwide and will allow Turkey to join the small club of nations with civil nuclear energy.
“We were granted a licence for the second unit at the end of August,” Komarov told Reuters at the World Nuclear Association (WNA) annual conference.
Rosatom is under pressure to complete at least the first of the four reactors by 2023, the centenary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic. It was doing its utmost to do this.
Under its contract terms, Rosatom has seven years to build each reactor from the date its receives all required licences and permissions.
“Seven years means we should finalise and commission the plant in 2025. We now have a very ambitious goal, shared with the Turkish government, to try to deliver earlier, in 2023. It is definitely a very challenging task,” Komarov said.
In April 2018, Rosatom won the licence for the first reactor, for which the foundations are now nearly completed.
Komarov, head of Rosatom’s international business, said the first unit’s “core catcher” was already on site and would be installed this autumn.
A core catcher is a structure like an ashtray to prevent a reactor in meltdown from burning itself deep into the ground.
Komarov said the entire Akkuyu site, located north of Cyprus on the Eastern Mediterranean, had been levelled and a platform was ready to receive the four units. Rosatom has also completed a port to receive heavy components.
He said there were now about 1,700 construction workers on the site, the majority of them Turkish.
Komarov said the fastest it had ever built a nuclear reactor had been in Tianwan, China, where unit 3 had been commissioned in Sept 2017, six years after signing the contract.
Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez told broadcaster Bloomberg HT that work on Akkuyu was continuing according to plan and that the Nuclear Regulation Authority would be giving the construction licence for unit 2 in coming days.
The four VVER reactors, with combined output of 4.8 gigawatt, are expected to meet 6% to 7% of Turkey’s electricity demand once they are fully operational.
Turkey, which relies on imports for almost all its energy needs, wants to reduce its dependence on gas, which mainly comes from Russia.
Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul Writing by Geert De Clercq Editing by David Goodman