By: Deeplaxmi Patil, Research Analyst, GSDN
The Trajectory of Nuclear Power in Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan is a vast, resource rich state in Central Asia. At the crossroads of Europe and Asia, the uranium-rich nation is becoming a more alluring player in the field of nuclear energy and strategic minerals, attracting attention from around the globe. Kazakhstan voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons and became a non-nuclear weapon state after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Prior to this, the nation had stored 1,410 Soviet strategic nuclear warheads in addition to an unspecified number of tactical nuclear weapons. Furthermore, Semipalatinsk, one of the main nuclear test sites used by the Soviet Union, was in Kazakhstan and was the scene of at least 460 nuclear tests.
Kazakhstan decided to denuclearize and eliminate the weapons on its territory and gave up its nuclear arsenal in a historic gesture. The idea of a more secure and safe world free from the threat of nuclear war served as the impetus for this decision. Kazakhstan’s commitment to disarmament has been widely praised, and the country has played an active role in advocating for global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament efforts. The closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site stands as a testament to Kazakhstan’s dedication to promoting peace and nuclear security internationally.
However, recently Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Energy has proposed the potential reintroduction of nuclear power to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, diversify its energy mix and reduce CO2 emissions. It has been actively pursuing the development of nuclear power to diversify its energy sources and enhance its energy securityTop of Form
. Kazakhstan showed interest in harnessing nuclear energy for purposes related to medicine and other peaceful fields, such as the production of electricity. Kazakhstan is one of the top producers of uranium in the world and has an abundance of the element, which is essential for nuclear fuel. The nation contributes significantly to the global nuclear sector and has large reserves of this material.
The Quest for Nuclear Power
According to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, a referendum on building a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan would be held. This announcement was made at his state-of-the-nation speech. The voting date is not decided yet.
The announcement of a referendum in Kazakhstan regarding the development of nuclear technologies signifies a significant step in the country’s energy policy and its engagement with its citizens. Energy Minister Almasadam Satkaliyev’s statement underscores the government’s commitment to engaging the public in decisions related to the development of nuclear power. The approach to seek public input indicates a transparent and democratic process, allowing citizens to express their thoughts and concerns about the necessity of advancing technologies in the nuclear energy sector.
Ulken, in the Almaty region’s Zhambyl district, was chosen after significant consideration and planning as the possible location for Kazakhstan’s first nuclear power plant. Since that building a nuclear plant involves not only technical and financial viability but also local acceptance and support, community involvement is essential. Kazakhstan’s nuclear energy law emphasises the need for local agreement, which emphasises how critical it is to take into account the concerns and opinions of the local population living close to the laid-out plant.
The initiation of public discussions, as mandated by Kazakhstan’s Ecological Code, demonstrates the government’s commitment to transparency and openness in decision-making. These discussions provide a platform for residents to voice their opinions, ensuring that their perspectives are considered. It is noteworthy that, according to the ministry, the local residents have expressed support for the development of nuclear energy, citing potential social and economic benefits for the region. This positive response could be indicative of effective communication and education efforts by the government, highlighting the advantages and safety measures associated with nuclear energy.
The consideration of four reputable foreign suppliers, namely EDF of France, China National Nuclear Corporation, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, and Rosatom of Russia, indicates Kazakhstan’s seriousness in evaluating international expertise and technologies.
Kazakhstan has shown a commitment to democratic ideals and public engagement in important energy decisions by including its citizens through a referendum and public participation. The government’s commitment to making well-informed decisions in the growth of its nuclear energy sector is demonstrated by the choosing of an appropriate location and the consideration of foreign suppliers. Maintaining transparency, educating the public, and paying close attention to their concerns will be crucial as the process develops to foster confidence and guarantee Kazakhstan’s nuclear energy goals are carried out successfully.
Kazakhstan’s nuclear balancing act and international interests
The evolving energy landscape in Kazakhstan presents a complex scenario, marked by a delicate balancing act between economic interests, environmental concerns, and geopolitical considerations. With ambitious carbon neutrality goals set for 2060, the country aims to diversify its energy mix by incorporating more nuclear power, a move driven by the need to reduce its heavy reliance on coal, which currently accounts for 70% of its power generation and is economically advantageous.
However, this transition to nuclear energy is not without challenges, especially when viewed through a geopolitical lens. Kazakhstan finds itself at the centre of a geopolitical conundrum, navigating the interests of major global players such as France, South Korea, Russia, and China. The choice of a nuclear partner carries significant political implications, requiring astute diplomacy and careful manoeuvring to maintain a delicate balance.
The dilemma is particularly evident in Kazakhstan’s careful approach toward Russia and the European Union (EU). While there is a desire to avoid sanctions from the EU, the country also aims to maintain a balanced relationship with Russia, a key neighbour and historical ally. The memory of past geopolitical events, such as the conflict in Ukraine, adds complexity to Kazakhstan’s decision-making process.
France’s keen interest in Kazakhstan’s strategic minerals, particularly uranium, further intensifies the international competition for access to these valuable resources. President Macron’s visit underscores France’s eagerness to strengthen ties with Kazakhstan, highlighting the importance of Central Asia in the minds of European nations, especially in the wake of challenges faced in other regions. Moreover, China and Turkey are also actively seeking opportunities in Central Asia, intensifying the competition for influence and access to resources in the region.
In this context, Kazakhstan’s decision-making process regarding its nuclear energy future is not merely an economic choice but a multifaceted geopolitical strategy. The country must carefully weigh the benefits of international partnerships against potential political risks, ensuring that its energy transition aligns with its national interests, economic growth, and global diplomatic relationships.
As Kazakhstan moves forward, its ability to navigate these intricate geopolitical dynamics will shape the trajectory of its nuclear energy development and its broader role in the global energy landscape. This situation highlights the growing complexity of energy-related decisions in an interconnected world, where economic, environmental, and geopolitical factors are inextricably intertwined.
- Regional Power Dynamics:
The advancement of nuclear power in Kazakhstan strengthens its position as a major regional force in Central Asia. Kazakhstan can become more influential in regional talks and negotiations and be able to influence more regional energy policies and partnerships if it possesses more effective nuclear technology and expertise.
- Diplomatic Leverage:
A nuclear program can provide Kazakhstan with diplomatic leverage in international negotiations. Being a nuclear-capable nation allows Kazakhstan to participate in discussions related to global nuclear governance, disarmament, and non-proliferation. It gives the country a stronger voice in international forums and strengthens its position when engaging with other nuclear-armed states.
- Energy Cooperation and Alliances:
Kazakhstan can participate in energy cooperation and alliances with other nations pursuing nuclear power by establishing itself as a producer of nuclear energy. Through cooperative research projects, energy trade agreements, and strategic collaborations, this collaboration can strengthen Kazakhstan’s political and economic relations with partner countries.
- Nuclear Security and Non-Proliferation:
Kazakhstan’s international standing may be enhanced through its dedication to nuclear non-proliferation and its prudent management of nuclear technology. Kazakhstan can improve its standing as a responsible nuclear actor by actively taking part in non-proliferation programmes, guaranteeing the security of its nuclear facilities, and collaborating with international organisations on nuclear safety measures.
- Regional Stability:
Through the diversification of Central Asia’s energy sources, Kazakhstan’s peaceful pursuit of nuclear energy can enhance regional stability. By diversifying the energy supply, the region becomes less dependent on any one provider, improving energy security and possibly lowering geopolitical conflicts associated with energy resources.
- Strategic Balancing Act:
Kazakhstan’s nuclear aspirations require it to meticulously oversee its connections with major nations, neighbours, and international organisations. In order to prevent neighbouring governments from engaging in an arms race or regional tensions rising as a result of Kazakhstan’s nuclear ambitions, diligent diplomacy will be needed to navigate these ties.
Kazakhstan’s nuclear power trajectory demonstrates a commitment to disarmament, non-proliferation, and the development of peaceful nuclear energy. Kazakhstan demonstrated responsible stewardship of its nuclear resources by actively participating in international collaborations and adhering to severe security procedures. The country’s transition to LEU, as well as the possibility of future civilian nuclear projects, demonstrate a balanced approach to leveraging the benefits of nuclear technology while supporting global non-proliferation efforts. As Kazakhstan navigates the nuclear power landscape, continued attention, cooperation, and investments in nuclear security will be critical.