The saga of building NPP in Kazakhstan

Baurzhan Ibrayev
Baurzhan Ibrayev Chairman, Central Asia Advisory Board New Nuclear Watch Institute

Building NPP in Kazakhstan is permanently being discussed in the country for the last 30 years. During this time, the country repeatedly “built” and “canceled” this construction. In November 2016, the energy minister said that the republic would not build NPP owing to an excess of energy, but after half a year the deputy minister of energy stated that the village Ulken in the Almaty region would be a preliminary location of the construction. In recent years, changes of energy ministers and their deputies led to a joke about there being no power engineers in the Ministry of Energy of Kazakhstan becoming common. Jokes aside, what do we have now?

As predicted by the Ministry of Energy, an audit of all TPP and power grids of the country will be finished in the first quarter of 2023. It is revealed that the average depreciation of the NPP equipment is 66%, and the average age of exploitation is 61, while the NPP depreciation in Uralsk, Stephogorsk, Taraz, Kyzylorda, Kentau is higher than 80%, - the energy minister Bolat Akchulakov says at the government meeting.

Of the 37 combined heat and power plants currently operating in the country, more than half (19) are located in a red zone. Accordingly, the number of emergency shutdowns is growing.  In Kazakhstan, it is expected that by 2035 the demand for electricity in the country will increase to 153 billion kW*h, and the generation at existing stations will decrease to 89 billion kW*h (112.8 billion kW*h in 2022). The shortage of electricity during peak hours of consumption is especially noticeable. The Ministry of Energy has calculated that until 2029 the volume of electricity used in the country will increase annually by an average of 3%. Production will lag in terms of growth.  In general, over 7 years, electricity consumption in the country will increase by 20%.  Production will be only 17% higher, which is hard to believe. It is also necessary to take into account the gigantic distances in Kazakhstan since there are large losses in the transmission and distribution of electricity - 21.5%. To increase production volumes, the infrastructure needs to be changed - this, according to estimates (economist Almas Chukin), will cost Kazakhstan about $24 billion, which is unbearable for the country in the current conditions, since the level of electricity prices is one of the lowest, and the deterioration of the system is critical, and the issue of a tariff increase is sensitive for the authorities as well.

Timur Zhantikin, General Director of “Kazakhstan Nuclear Power Plants” LLP, at the conference "Economic Aspects of NPP Construction in Kazakhstan," said: "In Kazakhstan, the deficit of basic capacity for electricity by 2035 will be 3.2 GW. To cover the deficit, Kazakhstan needs a nuclear power plant, at least with two units with a capacity of 1000 to 1400 MW" (2 GW-2.4 GW - "Sputnik").

According to Zhantikin, technical and commercial proposals have been received from 6 vendors from China, Korea, Russia, the USA, and France, and 13 projects of modern reactors proposed by foreign vendors of nuclear technologies (generations III and III+) have been studied.  All of these reactors are designed to operate for at least 60 years. For the analysis and evaluation of nuclear power technologies, together with the French company Assystem, a system of criteria has been developed based on the recommendations of IAEA documents.

The period of preparatory work (development and state examination of a feasibility study, adoption of a government decree, development and examination of design and estimate documentation) is 5 years. The main construction period will last up to 6 years. Thus, the project implementation period will be 10-12 years. "That is, the commissioning of the nuclear power plant can take place in 2035 if we decide on a technology supplier over the next year", - Zhantikin summed up.

“Are we going to wait 13 years for the first kilowatt to appear? We will not sit still for this time, without light in the dark. We will build renewable energy sources because we have obligations under the Paris Agreement. At that time when the plant will appear, so will the extra thousand MW, which will put pressure on the market", said a power engineer, Asset Nauryzbayev.

Public hearings published earlier on February 28 this year on plans for the location of the future NPP and, accordingly, for the construction of a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan, were postponed due to the early termination of the powers of maslikhats at all levels and preparations for the elections, and at present, it is not possible to ensure the presence representatives of local governments, said the akimat of the Zhambyl district of the Almaty region. As noted in the akimat, public hearings will be held after the election of deputies of the maslikhat; it has been decided to hold public hearings after the composition of the maslikhat is formed based on the results of the elections. A new date for the hearings will be published later” (February 23 — Sputnik).

But on February 25, the inhabitants of the Ulken village themselves appealed: “Dear compatriots! We, the inhabitants of the village of Ulken, are waiting with great enthusiasm for the construction of a nuclear power plant in our region. This is necessary for the future of our children and grandchildren, the prosperity of the region, and the country. We know that there are opponents to the construction of NPP, but there are also supporters! We also want to be heard.  We hope that after learning about the benefits and safety of NPP, you will support the construction of NPP by voting in support of this petition. If we do not start building a nuclear power plant in the coming years, then we will face a large energy shortage, and as a result - rolling blackouts, lack of heat and light, production shutdowns, and other problems. This cannot be allowed!"

It seems that no one in the country (neither the parliament nor the government) wants to take responsibility for the development of energy and the construction of NPP in the Republic of Kazakhstan - the society has the right to ask itself the question - or is this complete incompetence or deliberate sabotage? Does the NPP construction saga continue?

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