Kazakhstan, renowned for its abundant uranium reserves and expansive mining ventures, is making substantial progress in the realm of nuclear power. The country’s inaugural venture into this field was marked by the BN-350 fast-neutron reactor in Aktau, which signified the launch of Kazakhstan’s first nuclear power plant.
At present, Kazakhstan operates 13 uranium mining projects. Kazatomprom, the national atomic company, fully owns three of these, while the remaining ten are joint ventures with foreign equity holders. In 2020, Kazatomprom’s significant contributions to the uranium mining industry confirmed Kazakhstan’s status as the global leader in uranium production, providing 28% of the world’s production.
However, Kazakhstan’s nuclear aspirations are not confined to uranium mining. Plans are in motion to construct a nuclear power plant (NPP), projected to be operational by 2035, to cater to the country’s escalating energy demands. The proposed NPP is expected to house two reactors, each with a capacity ranging from 1,000 to 1,400 megawatts. These reactors will help alleviate the shortage of base load power supply in the nation.
Currently, the authorities are evaluating several potential suppliers of nuclear technology. The contenders include China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), South Korea’s Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP), France’s Électricité de France (EDF), and Russia’s state corporation Rosatom.
The construction of the NPP has sparked significant debate within the country. In response to public sentiment, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has announced a referendum to decide the future of the plant.
Despite the controversy, the nuclear sector continues to contribute to Kazakhstan’s economy through job creation. Nearly 18,000 people are currently employed in the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been closely monitoring Kazakhstan’s progress in developing its nuclear infrastructure. The country operates several research reactors and other nuclear installations related to the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle10.
While Kazakhstan’s venture into nuclear energy offers significant benefits, including job creation, economic growth, and a sustainable solution to the country’s escalating energy needs the course ahead depends on public sentiment and the outcome of the forthcoming referendum.