It’s about a 10-hour drive to Büyükeceli, Turkey, from Murat Cengizlier’s home in Istanbul. It’s considerably farther from his current residence in Vienna.

Despite the distance, the UW Law alumnus is closely linked to the small coastal town: It is the site of the first nuclear reactor in the country — one of many around the world Cengizlier is helping safely transition toward nuclear energy through his internship at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“When I studied sustainable development in the United States, I saw that the law can be a powerful tool as a connection between government institutions and technology,” says Cengizlier, a graduate of UW Law’s Sustainable International Development LL.M. program. “All of the environmental and energy law I’m focusing on is about building a bridge between scientists and end users in their countries.”

That bridge, Cengizlier says, is more important than ever as a growing number of developing countries move to meet energy needs through nuclear power.

Law is a powerful tool for development, and it really shows itself when it connects science with policy.

From Vienna, home base for the IAEA, Cengizlier advises lawyers working with emerging countries to implement nuclear practices, from radiotherapy treatments to nuclear electricity and more. He specifically focuses on the application of international law and conventions, ensuring governments are complying with agreements and standards for safety and security.

Between the politics, economics and often-daunting logistics, nuclear programs can be monumental undertakings. Once the decision has been made, however, it’s up to the IAEA to make sure the projects pass muster with flying colors.

“As you can imagine, nuclear energy is quite a delicate technology and high-risk in the sense that it doesn’t leave any margin for error,” Cengizlier says.

The UW Law alumnus didn’t initially find himself in international affairs after earning his bachelor’s degree in law in 2015. After graduating from Galatasaray Üniversitesi in Istanbul, he specialized in corporate law at a private Turkish firm. He possessed a mastery of both the Turkish and European law systems, and during that time, he looked to break into environmental law while complementing his skills with knowledge of the American common law system.

After receiving an offer to come to UW Law, Cengizlier packed his bags and headed to the United States for the first time — a crucial step on a journey that would find him at the forefront of the world’s energy revolution.

Securing sustainability

Turkey has been planning its nuclear energy program for half a century, long before Cengizlier earned his master’s from UW Law in 2018. Now, less than two years later, the program is a pillar of the country’s strategy for economic development — and it is far from alone.

Today, nuclear energy is the second-largest source of low-carbon power, providing about 10% of the world’s total electricity, according to the World Nuclear Association, and it’s growing exponentially. From 1990-2017, global nuclear energy generation increased by more than 30%, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But given the world’s growing energy needs and massive population growth ­— a 2019 United Nations report projects Earth will be home to some 9.7 billion people by 2050 — the needs for renewable energy is outpacing capacities to meet them.

We were sharing information and facing challenges together, and the degree gave me a sense of coordination with different people at the same time.

Cengizlier says his experience in the Sustainable International Development LL.M. program laid the foundation for his work today.

“The program gave me a very rich network of professionals who were working in different legal systems trying to get used to the American system,” Cengizlier says. “We were sharing information and facing challenges together, and the degree gave me a sense of coordination with different people at the same time.”

The importance of coordination in this industry in particular, he found, cannot be understated.

Global growth

Today’s nuclear economy is a worldwide affair, with manufacturers, distributors, sellers and buyers found on every continent. It is not uncommon for multiple countries’ products to be found on the same pieces of equipment.

As one would imagine, it is a tall task keeping it all in line with ever-evolving international laws, though it is a task that is critically important given the potential risks.

“There are so many considerations that depend on the relationship between countries who are promoting nuclear energy and those who are buying into it for their own independence,” Cengizlier says.

Nuclear energy is not without its controversies. Public opinion has been heavily influenced by the fallout from the world’s three reactor meltdowns, the most recent of which being the Fukushima reactor in Japan.

Still, in an age when energy independence is more essential to economic prosperity that ever — particularly for developing countries — nuclear power is being championed as of the cleanest, most attractive options for sustainable energy out there.

For Cengizlier, having a hand in shepherding the growth of such an important industry is something he does not take for granted. By continuing to build those bridges, he says, he can help change — and power — the world.

“Law is a powerful tool for development, and it really shows itself when it connects science with policy,” Cengizlier says, “and that is a perspective that I got from the SID LL.M. program.”