According to Kazakhstan’s Energy Minister Almasadam Satkaliyev, the country is considering a plan to replace coal stations with small modular reactors as Kazakhstan has joined the U.S. Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) Program.
What are the small modular reactors (SMRs)
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, SMRs are nuclear reactors generally 300 megawatts equivalent or less, designed with modular technology using module factory fabrication, pursuing economies of series production and short construction times.
SMRs are several times smaller than traditional nuclear reactors. Since they are modular, they can be assembled at a plant and transported as a single unit to a site for installation. SMRs use nuclear chain reaction to produce heat.
What do we know about the FIRST program?
In the summer of 2022, former Energy Minister of Kazakhstan Bolat Akchulakov said that the country would join the Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology Program.
At the time, the Energy Ministry said that the FIRST program facilitates the development of atomic energy in different countries under strict nuclear safety rules.
What did the minister say?
On November 8, Satkaliyev said on the sidelines of the Mazhilis that «so far, we are just talking about our plans with General Electric and NuScale. This is our intention.»
The minister also said that Rosatom, the Russian nuclear company, is one of several vendors for the first nuclear station in the country along with French EDF, South Korean KHNP and Chinese CNNC.
«Apart from this project, we are also reviewing offers from General Electric and NuScale, two American companies. I mean we are examining their technologies for small modular reactors,» he said.
When will Kazakhstan make its decision on the construction of a nuclear power plant?
According to the minister, the final decision on the nuclear power plant will be made after a nationwide referendum.
To promote awareness about the topic, the Ministry of Energy has assigned its experts with the task of visiting each region in the country to meet people and inform them about the government’s stance on the issue of the construction of a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan.
In turn, President Vladimir Putin of Russia said in an interview before his visit to Astana that Russian Rosatom is ready to build a nuclear plant in Kazakhstan.
«As we all know, the government of Kazakhstan is weighing the possible construction of a nuclear power plant in its territory. If their decision is positive, the state corporation Rosatom is ready to prepare a necessary design based on advanced technologies that would meet high international standards in the sphere of environment protection and safety rules,» Putin said.
The context. Kazakhstan plans to build its first nuclear power plant in the Ulken settlement in the Almaty region on the coast of Balkhash Lake. Local residents have already supported that decision. Kazakhstan aims to ensure the high resilience of its first nuclear plant by adopting 3+ technology, which accounts for both foreseeable failures during the design stage and unpredictable incidents.
According to the official forecast by the Ministry of Energy, the country will face a shortage of 1,400 megawatts by 2028. The ministry plans to build nuclear facilities with a capacity of at least 2.4 gigawatts by 2035. Each 1.2-gigawatt reactor was estimated last year at $5 billion. Given that the construction of the nuclear power plant will take ten years, the government has to start within two years to meet the deadline.