The recent visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Kazakhstan resulted in a raft of agreements covering a wide range of areas. Kazakhstan President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev said the visit was of special importance in terms of determining the prospects for the development of relations between the two countries. He noted that the independent development of the two countries was not an obstacle but resulted in a mutually beneficial partnership” which was “well understood in both Kazakhstan and Russia”.

During extensive negotiations between the high-level delegations from both sides key areas were identified for future cooperation and a number of agreements were reached aimed at strengthening cooperation in health, energy, transport, agriculture, sports and other areas. The two presidents reaffirmed that both sides were keen to strengthening multilateral relations and “to advance the integration process in the Eurasian space”.

While nuclear energy was not part of the official talks, it was the subject of numerous interviews by officials from both sides. While Kazakhstan has firm plans to build its first NPP, has selected a site and is considering offers from a number of suppliers, these plans are temporarily on hold pending a national referendum on the issue. In September President Tokayev acknowledged that public opinion in Kazkahstan was divided on the nuclear issue. “Considering how much suffering the Semipalatinsk test site caused to our people, one can understand their suspicions. Therefore, we must continue public hearings, detailed, large-scale discussions on this issue,” he said. “We need to make a final decision on important strategic issues by referendum. This was my promise to the people before the elections in 2019. The question of whether or not to build a nuclear power plant is a very important question for the future of our country. Therefore, I believe that it should be resolved by a national referendum. We will determine the exact deadline later.”

In the meantime, however, plans, discussions and lobbying continue. In the run up to his visit to Kazakhstan, President Putin gave a wide-ranging interview to Kazakhstanskaya Pravda newspaper, which was published on the Kremlin website. In response to a question on energy, Putin noted: “As you know, the leadership of the Republic of Kazakhstan is considering the issue of constructing a nuclear power plant on its territory. If the decision to implement this project is made, Rosatom state corporation is ready to develop a corresponding project using the most advanced technologies, in compliance with the highest environmental requirements and safety standards. This will increase the energy supply of the Kazakhstan economy and give a powerful impetus to the socio-economic development of the country.”

The following day, Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev, in told Izvestia, that Rosatom intends to invest in uranium mining in Kazakhstan. He said: "Kazakhstan is the top uranium producer – we will develop cooperation taking into consideration of interest of third countries, creating alliances, and investing in production in Kazakhstan." He also added that if Kazakhstan says "yes" to nuclear power, “Rosatom will be able to promptly implement the project of nuclear power plant construction in the country”. He added: “We will offer a reference solution that can be viewed in the Russian Federation and Belarus.” He emphasised that Kazakh partners had already had the opportunity to carefully study Rosatom’s experience in the construction of NPPs, having visited the its facilities, including the Akkuyu station in Turkey, as well as the Belarus NPP.

The same day, Kazakhstan's Energy Minister, Almasadam Satkaliev noted that Kazakhstan is considering various proposals for the construction of a NPP. "The Rosatom company is one of the vendors,” he said. “In addition to Rosatom, applications were submitted by the France’s EDF, companies from Korea and the People's Republic of China. And we are also considering proposals from two American companies – General Electric and NuScale – we are studying technologies for installing small modular reactors.” He confirmed that the decision will be made after the referendum.

In August, the Energy Ministry had provided an update on previously conducted studies related to the choice of reactor technologies and siting for Kazakhstan’s first NPP. The Ministry said that, based on studies, Ulken village in the Zhambyl district of Almaty region had been chosen as the most preferred locality. The Ministry also recommended choosing a technology “proven by the experience of construction and successful operation of a similar plant”. The shortlist included:

  • China National Nuclear Corporation’s HPR-1000 (Hualong One) reactor;
  • Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power’s APR1400 reactor;
  • Rosatom’s VVER-1200 and VVER-1000 reactors; and
  • EDF’s EPR-1200 reactor.

Image: Leaders from Russia and Kazakhstan have held talks on strengthening relations between the two countries in many areas, including energy (courtesy of Akorda)