Fears over power plant expansion bid

Plans for the expansion of a Turkish coal fired power plant will increase pollution and impact the health of the region’s population, according to a new study.

The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) has warned the expansion of the Afşin A plant in the Afşin-Elbistan area of eastern Turkey has the potential to impact hundreds of thousands of people living in the region.

The case study by the organisation has sought to analyse the air quality, toxic and health impacts of the proposed expansion of the lignite power plant Afşin A, combining detailed atmospheric modelling with existing epidemiological data and literature.  The study says the implications are deeply concerning.

There are currently four power generating units at Afşin A, which are fired with lignite from the adjacent Kışlaköy coal mine. At Afşin B there are a further 4 units, units 1, 2 and 4 are fired with lignite, while unit 3 has been converted for firing with fossil gas. Operator Afşin Elbistan Electricity Generation has submitted proposals that Afşin A is expanded with two additional lignite fired power generation units.

“The Afşin-Elbistan area in eastern Turkey contains the largest concentration of operating coal-fired power plants in the country,” the study said. “These coal-fired power plants are major point sources of air pollution, with remarkably high air pollutant emission rates and impacts on communities and ecosystems both locally and for hundreds of kilometres around.”

“The emissions from the studied power plant would elevate the levels of toxic particles and gases in the air over the region, increasing the risk of diseases such as stroke, lung cancer, heart and respiratory diseases in adults, as well as respiratory infections in children.

It said over the operating life of the plant, the cumulative toll on health is estimated at 1,900 premature deaths (95% confidence interval: 1,200–2,500).

“The additional units at the plant would emit an estimated 960 kg/year of mercury, of which approximately 500 kg would be deposited within the study area, increasing toxic mercury levels,” it added. “The deposition from the new plant alone would exceed the European average level in areas with 500,000 inhabitants.”

The study added: “Air pollution can lead to severe adverse effects on human health, including premature death. It is the fourth leading risk factor for premature death globally which makes it the greatest environmental risk factor for premature death.

“Every year, more than 4 million people worldwide die prematurely due to exposure to ambient PM2.5 (dust particles with a diameter below 2.5 μm;).”

It added: “There are large domestic reserves of coal in Turkey, much of which is formed of lignite, a low grade coal, also known as brown coal. The Turkish government currently plans to exploit these reserves as part of its strategy to reduce reliance on imported energy sources.

“However, the production and use of coal, and in particular lignite, for electricity generation is a source of both air pollutants and greenhouse gases. Coal burning was responsible for 43% of Turkey’s energy-related CO2 emissions in 2018 and Turkey’s coal-related CO2 emissions have increased by nearly 32% in the last decade.”

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