Kazakhstan currently has no nuclear power generation capacity, as the Aktau nuclear reactor, the country's only nuclear power plant, was shut down in June 1999. Tthe country is exploring assistance from Russia and Japan in constructing nuclear power plants. Russian proposals have focused on Aktau, where a Russian BN-350 fast reactor once operated. Although Kazakhstan had been studying the feasibility of a Japanese advanced boiling water reactor near Lake Balkash, a February 2013 memorandum of understanding put this location in question. Plans for light water reactors in other regions of the country are under consideration. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) <~>]

World Nuclear News reported: “Kazakh energy minister Vladimir Shkolnik said the government is considering construction of two nuclear power plants in the country. One of the new plants would be built near the town of Kurchatov and is "likely to be Russian-made", Kurchatov is a town in East Kazakhstan Province in northeast Kazakhstan. Named after Soviet nuclear physicist Igor Kurchatov, the town was once the centre of operations for the adjoining Semipalatinsk Test Site. [Source: World Nuclear News, January 26, 2015 /=/]

“The potential site of a second plant is Balkash and "one of the most promising" reactor designs under review is by Westinghouse, Shkolnik said, without elaborating. He noted that KazAtomProm - the Kazakh state-owned uranium producer - is a shareholder in Westinghouse. Japan's Toshiba sold 10 percent of its majority share in Westinghouse to KazAtomProm in 2007. Balkash is located on the northern shore of Lake Balkash, in the south of Kazakhstan. The cost of a nuclear reactor will be between $3 billion and $4 billion, he said. /=/

Planned and proposed nuclear power reactors: 1) Kurchatov: VBER-300 type; 2 x 300 MWe gross. Construction expected to start after 2025. 2) L.Balkhash: Westinghouse AP1000 type; 1200 MWe gross. [Source:]

Policy Considerations on Nuclear Power in Kazakhstan

World Nuclear News reported: “Any decision to build a second nuclear power plant will depend on Kazakhstan's electricity needs but also on the possibility of power exports after 2019, when a single energy market within the Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC) is expected to have been created, he said. The EAEC, which originated from the Commonwealth of Independent States on 29 March 1996, was terminated from 1 January 2015 and effectively replaced with the launch of the Eurasian Economic Union. [Source: World Nuclear News, January 26, 2015 /=/]

“The energy ministry said that last year Kazakhstan imported 644 GWh and exported 2.9 TWh of electricity. Power production increased by 2.1 percent to 93.9 TWh, while demand stood at 91.6 TWh. Coal accounted for 73 percent of power generation, while gas, wind, renewable energy, including small hydro power, covered 18 percent, 8 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively. Kazakhstan plans to increase the share of electricity it produces from renewable sources to 3 percent in 2020, 10 percent in 2030 and 50 percent in 2050. /=/

“A new draft law on the use of atomic energy in Kazakhstan was presented on January 15, 2015 to the country's lower house of parliament, the Majilis. The draft aims to update an existing law adopted 15 years ago, during which time Kazakhstan has joined a number of international conventions in the nuclear sector, accumulated significant changes to its national legislation and identified gaps in the regulation of safety in the use of nuclear energy.” /=/

Nuclear Power in the Past in Kazakhstan

The BN-350 fast reactor at Aktau (formerly Shevchenko), on the shore of the Caspian Sea, was built under Russia's Minatom supervision. It was designed as 1000 MWt capacity but never operated at more than 750 MWt (potentially 350 MWe) and after 1993 it operated at only about 520 MWt when funds were available to buy fuel. It was operated by the Mangistau Power Generation Co. (MAEK), and was a prototype for the BN-600 reactor at Beloyarsk. [Source: \+\]

The plant successfully produced up to 135 MWe of electricity and 80,000 m3/day of potable water over some 27 years until it was closed down in mid 1999. About 60 percent of its power was used for heat and desalination and it established the feasibility and reliability of such cogeneration plants. (In fact, oil/gas boilers were used in conjunction with it, and total desalination capacity through ten multi-effect distillation (MED) units was 120,000 m3/day.) \+\

The power complex structure at Aktau, including three gas-fired power plants, is operated by MAEK-Kazatomprom LLP, set up in 2003. It produces 500 MWe and 40,000 m3/day of potable water, using cogeneration distillation. \+\

Nuclear Power in the Future in Kazakhstan

Kazakh plans for future nuclear power include 300 MWe class units as well as smaller cogeneration units in regional cities. In 2012 the government had a draft master plan of power generation development in the country until 2030. According to this plan, a nuclear electricity share then should be about 4.5 percent, requiring about 900 MWe of nuclear capacity. Current generating capacity is about 20 GWe, and 2030 needs are projected as 150 billion kWh. [Source: \+\]

Feasibility studies in 2013 were proceeding on the basis of using VBER-300. Possible sites included Aktau and Balkhash, as well as Kurchatov in East Kazakhstan. It is proposed that the recommended site for an initial plant will be presented to the government in mid-2014. In January 2014 the President said that “The government should settle issues related to siting, investment sources and construction timeframe of the nuclear power plant” – and possibly more than one – by the end of March. In April 2014, Ulken on the western shore of Lake Balkhash was mentioned by the Ministry of Industry and New Technology as preferred, having both power needs and established grid. Kurchatov was the second possibility, with Aktau no longer favoured. The plant would comprise one or two light water reactors to be commissioned in 2025. A project management company was to be set up to finalise site selection and undertake a feasibility study. \+\

In May 2014 nuclear generation was included in the Fuel and Energy Complex Development Plan to 2030, produced by the Ministry of Industry and New Technologies. At the end of May 2014 NAC Kazatomprom signed an agreement with Rosatom to build a VVER nuclear plant, from 300 to 1200 MWe capacity, near Kurchatov. This would be at the Russian domestic price, not the world price, due to being part of “common economic space.” Rosatom said that the cost and configuration of the plant would depend on the feasibility study. Marubini Utility Service Ltd staff were reported to be active at Kurchatov. By the end of 2014 an intergovernmental agreement was to establish financing arrangements including a likely Russian loan. Rosatom announced that a draft intergovernmental agreement for construction of the plant at Kurchatov was signed at the end of September 2014. \+\

As new atomic energy legislation was being negotiated in January 2015, the Energy Minister announced that a reactor, likely a Russian one, would be built at Kurchatov, and a second one would be at Balkhash if energy demand justified it. A Westinghouse AP1000 is being considered for Balkhash, subject to financial conditions and arrangements for construction, operation and servicing of the plant. Negotiations with Toshiba for supply of a Westinghouse AP1000 reactor had earlier been reported (Kazatomprom being a 10 percent shareholder in Westinghouse). \+\

In April 2015 the Energy Ministry said that the site for a Russian reactor could be Kurchatov or Ulken, Almaty oblast, on the western shore of Lake Balkhash. A construction agreement is expected in mid-year. \+\

Proposed Russian Nuclear Power Plant in Kazakhstan

The July 2006 Atomniye Stantsii JV with Atomstroyexport envisaged development and export marketing of innovative small and medium-sized reactors, starting with OKBM Afrikantov's VBER-300 PWR as baseline for Kazakh units. Russia's Atomstroyexport expected to build the initial pair and Kazatomprom announced that it planned to start construction in 2011 for commissioning of the first unit in 2016 and the second in 2017 at Aktau in the Mangistau oblast, on the Caspian Sea. The plant would then be marketed internationally. [Source: \+\]

However, the project then stalled over funding, and apparent Russian reluctance to transfer intellectual property rights on the VBER reactor. It was reactivated in 2009, with Aktau as the site, and this was confirmed in a feasibility study completed in 2010 which showed that for an electricity price of 8 tenge (US$0.05) per kWh, the plant would be paid off in 12 years. The project has passed environmental review. Kazakh officials had been seeking Russian guarantees on costs and technical issues for the first plant, and OKBM was looking for new partners to develop the design. The Atomic Energy Committee said it would call tenders for the first plant, to be built by 2020, but that the JV with Russia was the leading contender. An intergovernmental agreement in March 2011 appeared to progress this. Kazatomprom lists as a 50 percent subsidiary the JSC Kazakhstani Russian Company Nuclear Power Stations, dating from 2006, at Aktau. \+\

In March 2013 Kazatomprom’s proposal to the government for a power plant at Aktau was accepted. Aktau has infrastructure and experienced personnel remaining from the BN-350 reactor which operated there 1973-99. However, early in 2014 the Mangistau provincial government opposed the choice of Aktau,and Kurchatov in the east then became the likely site. In January 2015 the energy minister confirmed this. Kazatomprom envisaged two VBER-300 reactors initially. \+\

Proposed Japanese Nuclear Power Plants in Kazakhstan

In April 2007 two agreements with Japan related to assistance in building nuclear power plants, one between Japan Atomic Power Co and three Kazakh entities, the other between Toshiba Corp and Kazatomprom. Further to these, in September 2009 the country's National Nuclear Centre (NNC) announced that an agreement had been signed with JAEA to build a 600 MWe nuclear power reactor, starting in 2010. Due to limited options being offered by reactor vendors for this size of unit, the Japanese offer to re-design and downrate an existing 700 MWe reactor was accepted. NNC said that advantages of this reactor included higher fuel burnup, high thermal efficiency and some capability of hydrogen production in commercially viable amounts. [Source: \+\]

In September 2010, based on the April 2007 agreement, Japan Atomic Power Co (JAPC), Toshiba and Marubeni signed a technical cooperation agreement with the National Nuclear Centre (NNC) to study the feasibility of building nuclear power capacity. JAPC would manage the project and establish an operating body, Toshiba would focus on the plant concept, and Marubeni Utility Services would assess economic feasibility including financial evaluation and financing. A further agreement to advance this was signed in February 2013, between JAPC and Marubini Utility Service Ltd with NNC. In July 2013 JSC Samruk-Kazyna, the national holding company owning Kazatomprom, announced that a joint Japanese-Kazakh company would build a reactor, and an interdepartmental working group was to prepare a feasibility study, select a site and choose an EPC contractor for it. \+\

The Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources of Kazakhstan and the NNC in 2009 were considering four potential sites for the 600 MWe nuclear power plant: near Ulken, Almaty oblast, on the western shore of Lake Balkhash in the southeast of the country, in Aktau (west of country), Turgay, Kustanai (north) and Kurchatov, in Eastern Kazakhstan oblast. By 2011 Taraz in the south had been added. Early in 2010 Eastern Kazakhstan became the likely location, for a boiling water reactor to be built by JAPC, which operates two in Japan. This project was on the state program of nuclear industry development in Kazakhstan for 2010-20, which was developed by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, NNC and Kazatomprom, and submitted for approval to the government. In 2011 NNC said the Japanese ABWR was preferred technology for this, and Lake Balkhash was reported to be the favoured site. In January 2015 the energy minister confirmed this, with the project dependent on electricity demand, and Westinghouse (or maybe Toshiba) being the possible supplier. \+\

In June 2008 an agreement on high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTR) research was initialled by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and the Kazakhstan Atomic Energy Committee, focused on small cogeneration plants, in context of a broader 2007 agreement with NNC. In June 2012 and February 2013 further R&D agreements between National Nuclear Centre (NNC) and JAEA were signed relating to the design, construction and operation of the Kazakhstan HTR of about 50 MW at Kurchatov. Also in 2012 Kazakh Nuclear Technology Safety Centre (NTSC) signed an agreement with JAEA on safety research related to the HTR. All this comes under a May 2011 high-level intergovernmental agreement on developing nuclear energy. The National Nuclear Centre (NNC) has proposed constructing 20 or more small reactors each of 50-100 MWe to supply dispersed towns, the first being at Kurchatov. \+\

Radioactive Waste Management in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan has a major legacy of radioactive wastes from uranium mining, nuclear reactors, nuclear weapons testing, industrial activities, coal mining and oilfields. A specific law covers radioactive waste management, and a new radioactive waste storage and disposal system is under consideration. Decommissioning of the BN-350 fast reactor at Aktau (known as Shevchenko from 1964 to 1992) is under way, with extensive international support. Used fuel has been stored at site, as is 1000 tonnes of radioactive sodium. [Source: \+\]

In 1997, the USA and Kazakh governments agreed to undertake a joint program to improve safety and security for the plutonium-bearing spent fuel from the BN-350 reactor. By the end of 2001, all of this material had been inventoried, put under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, and placed in 2800 one-tonne 4 metre-long storage canisters, with more-radioactive and less-radioactive fuel packaged together, so that each canister would be self-protecting, making the fuel elements far more difficult to steal. This was necessary because much of the spent fuel had been cooling for so long, and was so lightly irradiated to begin with, that some of the individual fuel assemblies were no longer radioactive enough to be "self-protecting" against theft. The USA and Kazakhstan agreed to ship the material to the area of the former Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in northeast Kazakhstan, west and south of Kurchatov city for storage, and the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) designed and purchased dual-purpose transport and storage casks for that purpose. These were made at a former torpedo factory in Kazakhstan. \+\

Some 3000 fuel assemblies – about 300 tonnes containing 3 tonnes of plutonium – were removed from the reactor site in 12 shipments over 2009-10 under US supervision, and were transported about 3000 kilometers by train to a secure storage facility in Semlpalatinsk. This is licensed for 50 years, and the Kazakh government will be responsible for the ultimate disposition of the fuel beyond that. About 10 tonnes of fresh high-enriched uranium was sent to the Ulba plant at Ust-Kamenogorsk for downblending to low-enriched uranium. \+\

The Semipalatinsk Test Site (STS) hosted about 470 nuclear weapons tests in the Soviet era and there remains a significant legacy of environmental damage there. The site was closed in 1991. The USA and Russia worked together over 1996 to 2012 with Kazakhstan to secure the former test site, which is bigger than the American state of New Jersey. The focus was on waste plutonium. \+\

Nuclear Research and Development in Kazakhstan

The National Nuclear Centre (NNC) set up in 1992, employs some 2700 researchers and consolidates six research centres. The NNC is responsible for research on the peaceful use of nuclear energy and radiation safety and is also responsible for evaluating the consequences of nuclear tests at the now-closed Semipalatinsk Test Site. All nuclear research reactors in Kazakhstan are under the jurisdiction of the NNC. [Source: \+\]

In October 2010 the NNC signed an agreement with Belgium's SCK-CEN to collaborate in nuclear energy research focused on the Belgian Myrrha project for an accelerator-driven system to incinerate radioactive waste, perform research and undertake radioisotope production. Myrrha, a multifunctional lead-bismuth-cooled subcritical reactor, is expected to commence operation in 2023, largely funded from the EU. \+\

At Kurchatov (aka Semipalatinsk-21) on the former nuclear test site in the northeast of the country, two research reactors owned by NNC are operated by the Institute of Atomic Energy. The largest, EWG 1, is a 35-60 MW tank type supplied by Russia which started in 1972 and uses 90 percent high-enriched fuel. Also at the site the Impulse Graphite Reactor (IGR) has operated since 1961 and is quoted at 10 MWt. In June 2015 an agreement was signed between NNC and JAEA for stage 3 of the project to investigate sodium-cooled fast reactors with experiments planned on the IGR and on a test facility at NNC in Alma-Ata. In 2005, 8 kg of test fuel was melted in IGR, simulating a fast reactor core-melt. This joint project is known as EAGLE – Experimental Acquisition of Generalised Logic to Eliminate Recriticalities, and is planned to 2020. A small high-temperature reactor (RA) was disassembled and returned to Russia. \+\

Another reactor is at Alatau, 15 kilometers south of Almaty, owned by NNC and operated by the Institute of Nuclear Physics (INP). The 6 MW pool-type WWR-K, started in 1967 and used among other things for radioisotope production (Mo-99, I-131, Co-60, Ir-192, Sb-124, Tl-204). It was also supplied by Russia and initially used 36 percent enriched fuel, but in 2011, 33kg of HEU was downblended to 20 percent LEU at the Ulba Metallurgical plant (UMZ) in Ust-Kamenogorsk and returned for use once the reactor is converted to use it. This conversion was in progress at the end of 2014, with US help. The operation to remove and downblend the fuel was a combined effort between the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the Kazakh government and the IAEA. In 2009, 70 kg of used HEU fuel was returned to Russia. In 2014-15 two shipments of HEU were returned to Russia – 10 kg for downblending and then 36 kg. The NNSA says that a further 50 kg of HEU remains there. \+\

Also at Kuchatov is the Kazakhstan Material Study Tokamak (KMT), supported by Russia's Kurchatov Institute, which produced its first plasma in 2010. Full commissioning is due in 2011. kilometersT supports the ITER project with materials testing. \+\

Nuclear Power Organisation, Regulation and Safety in Kazakhstan

The government corporation Kazatomprom was set up in 1996-7 to manage the government's stake in uranium mining and nuclear fuel production, as well as import and export of nuclear material. It also regulates uranium mining. KATEP, set up in 1993, formerly was responsible for all this but in 1997 became simply focused on nuclear power plants. [Source: \+\]

The regulatory body responsible for licensing and safety as well as safeguards compliance from May 2012 is the new Atomic Energy Agency of Kazakhstan. Formerly it was the Kazakhstan Committee on Atomic Energy (CAE), and before that (1992-96) the Atomic Energy Agency, under the Industry & New Technologies Ministry. The CAE included three departments: supervision and analysis, licensing and material monitoring, and security. It was abolished in May 2012 and replaced outside the Ministry by the new Atomic Energy Agency to take responsibility for atomic energy, nuclear and radiological safety, physical protection of nuclear materials and nuclear facilities, as well as compliance with non-proliferation requirements. \+\

All uranium and nuclear operations – MAEK, Kazatomprom, KATEP, CAE/AEA and NNC, come under the Ministry of Energy & Mineral Resources. It operates under the 1997 Atomic Energy Law. The National Nuclear Centre (NNC) was set up in 1992 to utilise the former Soviet military facilities for civilian research. The Nuclear Technology Safety Centre (NTSC) was set up in 1997 with US support to manage the shut-down of the BN-350 reactor at Aktau, and foster safety of nuclear power.

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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