The youth trade union forum, PromAtomFest 2023, took place in the Almaty region

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

In the President's Address to the people of Kazakhstan on September 1, 2023, special attention was given to the development and modernization of the country's energy sector and its energy stability, emphasizing the need for diversification of the energy structure. The President noted the important role of nuclear energy, considering that the country is a global leader in natural uranium production and the necessity of energy generation from this type of raw material. The President was tasked to provide the population with an objective picture of nuclear energy and to conduct a referendum on the construction of a nuclear power plant.

From September 15 to 17, the sectoral professional union of nuclear industry workers organized a Forum of trade union youth dedicated to the Atomic Industry Day on September 28. The Forum was attended by leaders and representatives of the trade union movement from all organizations within the sectoral union. 

The development of nuclear energy in Kazakhstan is a necessary and timely step to meet the country's growing demand for electricity, especially considering the existing and increasing energy deficit, which is expected to double in the next 10 years according to the forecasts of the Ministry of Energy of Kazakhstan. It is essential to provide accurate and clear information to the population about the advantages of nuclear power plants. The lack of reliable information on the nuclear and radiation safety of modern nuclear power plants from specialized experts breeds phobias, speculations, and rumors.

Today, about 40% of the cost of a nuclear power plant includes various safety systems and physical barriers designed to prevent nuclear incidents. Modern active and passive safety systems keep the reactor safe without human intervention. For comparison, a thermal power plant (TPP) causes almost 10 times more harm compared to a nuclear power plant of the same capacity, emitting significantly more radioactive elements into the atmosphere than a nuclear power plant and vast amounts of harmful gases from burning organic fuel plus massive ash dumps.

Considering the proposals from vendors regarding the construction of nuclear power plants, it is necessary to highlight the undeniable advantages of Rosatom, the most advanced in nuclear power plant construction abroad, with high competencies and a presence in all types of nuclear activities, including nuclear science, and no language barrier. It is also possible to involve one vendor utilizing the advantages of others – i.e., the general contractor can use the nuclear island of one vendor, the I&C systems, and turbines of others, and so on.

Today, the country needs a Strategy for the development of the electric power industry as the existing short-term plans of the Ministry of Energy do not allow for a systematic resolution of industry issues.

On September 5, 2023, in the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk, a roundtable discussion was held on "The Role of International Cooperation in the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy" dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the Nuclear Society of Kazakhstan. The roundtable was attended by representatives of the Ministry of Energy of Kazakhstan, the akim (governor) of East Kazakhstan Region, the Nuclear Society of Russia, the International Scientific and Technical Center, the National Nuclear Center, national companies in the nuclear energy sector, relevant universities, and NNWI.

The main topics of the speakers' presentations were focused on research on nuclear energy safety in the Republic of Kazakhstan, research in the field of nuclear technology and nuclear medicine in Kazakhstan, prospects for building nuclear power plants in international cooperation, potential suppliers of reactor technology, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, popularizing knowledge, and training personnel for nuclear science and industry. The common theme throughout all the presentations emphasized the urgent need to construct nuclear power plants in Kazakhstan due to the growing deficit of electrical energy, and the inability to generate the required amount of energy through coal, gas, wind, or solar power. It was stressed, including by the Deputy Minister of Energy of Kazakhstan, that there is no alternative to nuclear energy shortly.

The memory of the legacies of nuclear explosions at the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site, insufficient public awareness of the advantages of nuclear energy, and a lack of trust in the competence of officials have led to a phobia among people regarding nuclear power plants. Representatives from NNWI in Central Asia and Kazakhstan, along with colleagues from Russia and the Kazakhstan Atomic Power Stations (KAES) Company, also addressed students of the Faculty of Energy at the East Kazakhstan State Technical University and technical college metallurgy students. They also gave interviews to state and local television channels.

Before the public referendum on the construction of nuclear power plants, announced by the country's president on September 1, which may take place by the end of this year, the relevance of the speakers' presentations to students was very timely. Atomic technology vendors, the advantages and differences of their proposals, environmental issues, water consumption, and other topics were extensively presented. The lively interest of the public indicates a turning point toward a positive perception of nuclear topics, and it is important not to stop in the broad popularization of the safety of peaceful nuclear energy use.

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