NPP in Kazakhstan: Public Opinion, Potential Blackout and Government Inefficiency

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

Summer 2023 turned out to be very hot in Kazakhstan in terms of discussing one of the country's key economic sectors - the energy sector.

The recent statements from the Ministry of Energy about the impending electricity deficit at the threshold of 2030-2035 amounting to 17 GW, the signing of an agreement with the Russian Federation to purchase 1.4-1.7 GW today, and the public hearings that will place on August 22nd regarding the possibility of building a 2.4 GW nuclear power plant near the village of Ulken on the shores of Lake Balkhash have stirred the entire country.

Insufficient public awareness, lack of transparency in technology selection, distrust of the competence of the Government, and accusations of corruption have fueled the free press.

Virtually all mass media outlets competed to discuss the latest news, energy experts were in high demand, and environmentalists organized forums both for and against the nuclear power plant. Pluralism of opinions was evident - society was divided and there was no unified stance: on whether to build the nuclear power plant or not.

Today, the energy sector in the country stands at a crossroads of changes that affect its structure, sustainability, and environmental orientation. Key energy sources - coal, oil, and gas - are undergoing significant changes toward diversification and sustainability. One of the main factors in Kazakhstan's energy sector is its desire to reduce dependency on traditional energy sources. This is also related to the signing of the Paris Agreement, within which Kazakhstan committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Nuclear energy has a very serious potential in the development of Kazakhstan's energy system. The presence of large nuclear facilities (research reactors, accelerators, the TOKAMAK thermonuclear installation, the National Nuclear Center, a modern fuel assembly production plant, as well as the world leader in natural uranium production, NAC "Kazatomprom," which also has a share in the "Uranium Enrichment Center") allows us to speak about Kazakhstan's readiness to possess nuclear power plants. Voices about the insufficiency of a single nuclear power plant in the country and the need for multiple nuclear power plants to cover existing and future energy deficits are becoming louder.

There are concerns within society about potential vendor dependence, who will win the tender for nuclear power plant construction, and demands for Government guarantees on modern technology safety and environmental challenges, as well as discussions about potential financial arrangements due to the high cost of nuclear power plants and the need for additional research on proposed technologies. State authorities, experts, and society must work together to ensure the sustainable and efficient development of Kazakhstan's energy sector.

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