Rosatom, Kazakhstan mull nuke plant construction

EPA/SERGEI ILNITSKY

The visitors examine an exhibition booth of the Russian Rosatom company during a specialised international exhibition of the nuclear industry, ATOMEXPO-2014, in Moscow, Russia, June 9, 2014. Rosatom is considering building a nuclear plant in Kazakhstan.

Russian atomic company’s plans spark nuclear debate in former Soviet republic


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ASTANA – Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom and Kazakhstan’s Energy Ministry may soon sign an intergovernmental agreement on construction of a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan, Rosatom International Network President Alexander Merten told reporters in Astana last week.

He stressed that the nuclear power plant, built on Russian technology is the most secure in the world. For example, the dome of its nuclear reactor can even withstand a fall of a heavy Boeing -747.

At the time of a sharp drop in oil prices, as well as anxiety about the future of the planet (particularly after the World Climate Conference in Paris – November 30 – author’s note) the question of the need to build nuclear power plants is increasingly raised in many countries.

According to experts, the nuclear power is the cleanest and cheapest energy in the world. Astana, which proclaimed to host the International Expo under the motto Energy of the Future in 2017, now should really prove their commitment to the declared rate.

The largest hydropower plants of the republic works using Ekibastuz coal. And the coal power, which takes the lion’s share of energy in our country is considered one of the main sources of environmental pollution. At the same time, Kazakhstan is ranked first in the world in uranium reserves and could have afforded to build a nuclear power plant many years ago.

But it is not so simple. If we look at history, the first plans to build the nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan (then it was supposed to be placed near Lake Balkhash) were announced in 1998. However, in the Kazakh society, this idea was perceived negatively. One of the main reasons for this phobia was the fact that the Kazakh people have very badly affected by the activities of the Semipalatinsk test site, where underground and ground tests were carried out for many years.

Secondly, the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine added fuel to the fire. Thirdly, Balkhash, which was chosen as the site, is a seismogenic area. Alarms of the Kazakhstanis were clear. Therefore, all work on development of nuclear power plant construction project in Kazakhstan was actually collapsed.

But eight years later, in November 2006, the government nevertheless adopted a resolution on preparations for construction of a nuclear power plant in Mangystau region (the west) 10 kilometres from Aktau on the basis of the former and disabled nuclear power complex (Mangystau Nuclear Power Complex – MNPC). It was decided to build a nuclear power station on the basis of reactors of medium capacity VBER-300 of Russian and European production.

Russian experts promised to complete the feasibility study and investment rationale of the nuclear power station in 2009. However, in February 2009, the Kazakh government suspended the project until the settlement with Russia regarding the transfer of intellectual property. Then, the list of possible sites for the nuclear power plant included Kurchatov, located on the territory of the former Semipalatinsk test site.

At the end of May 2014, Russia and Kazakhstan signed a memorandum on cooperation in construction of a nuclear power plant in Kurchatov.

Last week Astana was once again talking about construction of a nuclear power plant. The Russian company Rosatom International Network – a subsidiary of Rosatom – recently opened its regional office, which is called Rosatom- International Network – Central Asia in the capital of Kazakhstan. The field of its activity will include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, plus Mongolia. The main objective of the new structure is preliminary preparations for the first nuclear power plant construction project in Kazakhstan, Merten told Kazakh journalists as he arrived in Astana on the occasion of opening of the regional office of the company.

“Now we are preparing for signing, and we hope that soon we will sign a joint agreement between Rosatom and the Ministry of Energy of Kazakhstan to build a nuclear power station,” Merten said.

According to him, negotiations are going currently on conclusion of such an agreement. But as is known, Japanese companies are also among the contenders for construction of a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan. This question was discussed during a recent visit of the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Astana.

Merten said that the last word in choosing a partner is for Kazakhstan. “As Kazakhstan is the customer, we are performers, it (Kazakhstan) will determine what and how many projects will be there. In addition, we heard that there is a desire to build several nuclear power plants. Maybe several suppliers will be chosen,” Merten said .

He stressed that Rosatom has the most advanced and secure technologies in the world.

“We offer a modern station of the new generation ‘3+’, which has successfully passed all stress tests, according to the requirements of the IAEA. For clarity, I can make an example: the dome of our nuclear reactor can withstand a drop of a large BOEING – 747,” Merten said and added that over the next 10 years, the portfolio of orders of Rosatom is $101 billion.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan is in no hurry with the decision, Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik told reporters.

“Now the main problem is that Kazakhstan has excess capacity of electricity, more than 2 thousand MW. And we have time to look carefully and choose the best projects in the world’s nuclear power plants,” Shkolnik said.

He indicated that the decision would take a year or two. Everything will depend on the energy balance of the country.

“Now, at this stage, it is important for us to form a correct attitude of young people towards nuclear energy,” Shkolnik said.

According to specialists, the nuclear power station construction project is a project for 100 years. So, the question of site selection, its full survey, including in terms of seismology, preparation of project documentation and construction itself – it all takes six-seven years. The stage of guaranteed operation takes 60 years. The stage of life extension is 20 years, and, finally, decommissioning is 10 years.

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