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Kazakhstan, Russia May Launch First Nuclear Plant in Central Asia

By Gaukhar Erubaeva November 2, 2018

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Although Kazakhstan is ranked a leading uranium producer and has about 13 percent of the world’s recoverable uranium resources, none of it has been used to generate electricity for decades. / Konstantin Chalabov / Sputnik

Nuclear power may be making a come-back in Kazakhstan. Alexey Borodavkin, Russia’s ambassador to the Central Asian country, said last week that Russia is ready to help the fossil-fuel rich nation develop a nuclear power plant.

“For our part, we are ready to make efforts to facilitate the final decision and to participate in the construction of the first in Kazakhstan nuclear power plant modeled on Russian ones,” Borodavkin said last Thursday in an interview with Sputnik.

Although Kazakhstan is ranked a leading uranium producer and has about 13 percent of the world’s recoverable uranium resources, none of it has been used to generate electricity for decades. A single nuclear power reactor in Kazakhstan was launched in 1973 for electricity production and desalinate water, but in 1999 the facility closed its doors after the Kazakhstani government joined the global nonproliferation regime.

Today the country’s uranium reserves are extracted using environmentally friendly and low-cost methods for sale abroad. At the same time, the government has been seriously considering launching a nuclear power plant to help change the country’s energy mix.

In 2017, Kazakhstan produced nearly 100 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity, while in the United States this figure amounted to 4.03 trillion kWh during the same period. About 91 percent of Kazakhstan’s electricity comes from fossil fuels, including coal, natural gas and petroleum, while only one percent is from renewable resources.

“The need for cheap nuclear energy will keep on growing in the foreseeable future,” President Nursultan Nazarbayev stressed in his annual message addressed to Kazakhstan’s citizens in 2014.

“Kazakhstan is the world leader in uranium mining, so we must develop our own production of fuel for nuclear power plants and build nuclear power plants,” he said.

In 2006, the government launched an exploratory project to identify all of the pros and cons of constructing a nuclear plant. In 2014, Kazakhstan and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding for constructing a reactor, however, a location for the site was never determined.

Batyrzhan Karakozov, Director of the Department of Atomic Energy and Industry, says the government in Astana halted the project for several reasons.

“This is a very difficult and expensive project that will be implemented over a long period of time, so [the government] approaches it very carefully,” he said during his speech at the IAEA session in 2017, according to reports by Kursiv.

Building nuclear power plants is not cheap, and some analysts say the cost for constructing just one unit could be approximately $5 billion. Additional costs will have to account for storage and disposal of radioactive waste, as well as the subsequent dismantling of exhausted reactors decades later.

Kazakhstan may not be alone in the region if it decides to harness the power of the atom for electricity generation. Neighboring Uzbekistan intends to launch a nuclear power plant. Earlier this year the Uzbekistani government and Russia’s Rosatom agreed to build a plant in the country’s Navoi region, which may be commissioned by 2028.