What Kazakhstan’s approach to nuclear power looks like

The government is going to show citizens a final version of the nuclear project once it is ready

Minister of Energy Bolat Akchulakov has revealed some details concerning preparations for the start of the nuclear power station construction.

The construction of a nuclear power station seems very attractive to the country that both suffers from a lack of electricity and is committed to downgrading the role of coal in the national economy.

The official has also noted that the decision is tightly linked to the program of carbon neutrality, depreciation of energy production facilities and the huge potential of nuclear energy.

The minister recalled that Kazakhstan has everything needed for nuclear energy production including nuclear fuel plant and 24,000 high-end professionals in the field.

Since 2010, Kazakhstan’s universities have prepared specialists for the industry while President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed in Moscow last week a memorandum on cooperation with leading Russian universities to prepare more staff for the nuclear industry, said Akchulakov.

Energy consumption in the country may reach 152.9 billion kilowatt-hours by 2035 with a yearly growth of the consumption by 2.7% or even more each year, he added.

“We believe that the country should add about 17.5 gigawatts of power to its energy balance not just because of a lack of energy but also due to the worn-out state of many energy production facilities. That’s why we are going to replace old production facilities with new ones,” said Akchulakov.

However, it is not so easy to add 17.5 gigawatts of new capacity as coal production tends to decrease because of environmental concerns and natural gas reserves are running out.

As Akshulakov noted, one station with a capacity of just one gigawatt would require two billion cubic meters of gas. This is a huge amount of gas for Kazakhstan.

The minister also mentioned that the idea of a nuclear power station in Kazakhstan had been discussed even in Soviet times. Independent Kazakhstan was focused on the issue over 2006-2014.

Hence, the government is going to do rigorous research before it would take any real steps, Akchulakov said.

“We have to examine seismic features of the local ground, its tectonics, to see if there is enough water. Also, there is a lot of technical and human resources aspects. We have to think about this long before the launch of the project. There are just three countries that possess the technology of generation III reactor: Russia, the U.S. and France. So, we are going to examine all options and facets of the issue,” Akshulakov said.

There was no discussion about potential investors as there is neither clear justification for the future nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan no solid research on the topic. Kazakhstan Nuclear Power Stations, a subsidiary of the state holding Samruk Kazyna, may be the one to provide funding for this research. After that, the government would be able to start searching for investors.

Once the project is ready, the public discussion will start, said the minister. At this stage, people would be able to share their opinion and fears toward the project. The official doesn’t rule out a potential plebiscite on the topic.

“The government will ask people to vote to decide if it’s necessary. Once the project is ready it should be a subject of open public discussion,” he said.

According to the energy minister, he can’t see any alternatives to a nuclear power plant as the world has focused on achieving carbon neutrality. He also said what kind of share nuclear energy may have in the future energy balance in the country.

“I won’t say it would be 100% or 50%. The share of nuclear power in the country’s energy balance maybe about 6%,” Akchulakov said.

On September 1, 2021, President Tokayev warned the country about the upcoming severe deficit of power and called to think about new sources of energy aside from coal and reusable sources of energy. The president has put in charge of this task Samruk Kazyna and the cabinet. “In the course of this year we have to find a way to develop safe and clean nuclear energy,” he said.

Tokayev confirmed that Kazakhstan needs the nuclear power station while speaking online at the Eastern Economic Forum. He said that this is a good time to think about a station in Kazakhstan. At the same time, he believes that all concerns of the state, citizens and businesses must be taken into account.

In 2019, President Vladimir Putin of Russia publicly promoted a Russian nuclear company as a possible contractor for a nuclear plant in Kazakhstan. However, Kazakhstan responded that the country can’t make a final decision until the people of the country share their opinion.

In October last year, Dauren Abaev, the first deputy head of the president’s office at the time, said that this is a very tough task for Kazakhstan to guarantee its national energy security without a nuclear station.

At the beginning of December, Nursultan Nazarbayev did announce the construction of a nuclear power station in Kazakhstan. He also said that the country was amid negotiations with China about the export of power via the system of the power grid.

On December 28, 2021, an ex-minister of energy Magzum Mirzagaliev said that there is no alternative to a nuclear power station. On February 8, 2022, President Tokayev once again said that the country needs nuclear energy.

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