(EurActiv) — Kazakhstan will hold a referendum to decide whether to build its first nuclear power plant, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Friday (1 September), adding that the date would be decided later.
The energy-rich Central Asian nation’s government has long discussed the idea, citing the need for diversification of the power generation capacity, and even identified a planned location for the facility in the southeastern Almary region and mentioned Russia’s Rosatom as a potential partner.
But some activists oppose the project because of safety concerns and Kazakhstan’s history as home to the Soviet-operated Semipalatinsk nuclear weapons testing ground.
“On the one hand, Kazakhstan, as the world’s biggest uranium producer, should have its own nuclear power capacity,” Tokayev said. “On the other hand, many citizens and some experts have concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants.”
Aidarbek Khojanazarov, chairman of the Respublica Party and one of the six parties in the Mazhilis, emphasized the importance of an extensive public awareness campaign prior to the referendum. He insisted the public should be well-informed about what they will be voting for.
“To address this issue adequately, one needs expertise. This isn’t a question to be answered emotionally; it requires expert consideration,” Khojanazarov said, as quoted by Kazinform.
According to Tokayev, further public hearings are needed. The most recent one took place on 22 August in Ulken village in the Almaty Region, a location previously considered “optimal” for a future plant by the government. The hearing, however, was fraught with disputes between local supporters and opposing civic activists.
Leader in uranium production
Kazakhstan became the absolute leader in uranium mining, accounting for 42% of global production, with the share of Kazatomprom National Atomic Company constituting 22%, the Samruk Kazyna Sovereign Wealth Fund reported on 29 August.
Kazatomprom is the world’s largest uranium producer, with its subsidiaries, affiliates, and joint ventures developing 26 deposits united into 14 uranium mining enterprises.