President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (Image: Presidential website)
Kazakhstan's Ministry of Energy has proposed the potential reintroduction of nuclear power to reduce the country's reliance on fossil fuels, diversify its energy mix and reduce CO2 emissions. Kazakhstan Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP), which has been designated as the owner/operator of the future plant, began preparing a feasibility study in 2018 to justify the need for nuclear power, the choice of the location for plant construction and to review the plant's projected power output.
"The development of nuclear energy has become a very important economic and political issue," Tokayev said. "You know that there are different opinions on the question of whether it is necessary to build a nuclear power plant or not."
He noted that, as the world's largest producer of uranium, Kazakhstan has "every right to build a nuclear power plant in our country". He added: "Some experts believe that small nuclear power plants should be built. However, many citizens and some experts are skeptical about the safety of nuclear power plants. That's why we need to continue public hearings, detailed, wide-ranging discussions on this issue. We need to take the final decision on important strategic issues through a referendum."
The Ministry of Energy said that, "together with the relevant state bodies, members of Parliament, experts in this field and public activists", it will soon "thoroughly review all issues of the implementation of the President's order, work out other aspects and inform the public about these works".
The ministry also said it is necessary to "determine the concept of the issue to be put to the people's vote". It said the date of the referendum would be announced later.
"In my opinion, the referendum will first of all be aimed at the citizens of Kazakhstan expressing their thoughts about the need for the development of technologies in this field, and the government will propose solutions suitable for the society," said Energy Minister Almasadam Satkaliyev.
Last month, the Ministry of Energy issued an update on progress towards the construction of Kazakhstan's first nuclear power plant, confirming the selection of Ulken in the Zhambyl district of Almaty region as the most suitable area for the plant for which four potential suppliers had been shortlisted.
Under Kazakhstan's nuclear energy law, construction of a nuclear plant requires local agreement. The law requires public discussions, which aim to determine the attitude of local people to the idea of building a nuclear power plant in their territory. Kazakhstan's Ecological Code requires public hearings to evaluate the project documentation on the construction of the nuclear power plant. The akimat, or local government, of the Almaty region has now begun these public discussions, the ministry said.
"In the local discussions, the residents supported the development of nuclear energy in the region and said that the project will be an impetus for the social and economic development of the region," the ministry said.
Four foreign potential suppliers of nuclear technology are being considered by Kazakhstan, the ministry said in January. These are EDF of France, China National Nuclear Corporation, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power and Rosatom of Russia.
A Russian-designed BN-350 sodium-cooled fast reactor operated near Aktau in Kazakhstan for 26 years until 1999, generating electricity and desalinating water. Kazakhstan currently operates research reactors as well as several other nuclear installations related to the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining.