By Penza News
The new Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi, who officially took office for a four-year period on December 3, confirmed the IAEA’s readiness to continue to provide technical and expert assistance to Uzbekistan, including in the process of building a nuclear power plant, which, in accordance with the agreements reached, will be constructed by the Russian state corporation Rosatom.
During the meeting with the Permanent Representative of Uzbekistan to the IAEA Sherzod Asadov in Vienna in November, the parties exchanged views on ongoing work on the development of nuclear energy, strengthening scientific and educational potential in this area, the Foreign Ministry of the republic reported.
The achieved level of cooperation of the IAEA with the Ministry of Energy, Uzatom Agency, Academy of Sciences and the State Committee for Industrial Safety of Uzbekistan was also highly valued.
“The parties expressed satisfaction with the level of work carried out by the IAEA in Uzbekistan and the effectiveness of joint activities aimed at ensuring and improving radiation and nuclear safety. They also highlighted the importance of bringing technical cooperation to a whole new level. It was emphasized that Uzbekistan is firmly committed to international obligations in compliance with all requirements and recommendations of the IAEA to ensure nuclear safety,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Earlier it became known that next year the IAEA inspectors intend to visit Uzbekistan to assess the plans for the construction of the facility, as well as Belarus, where Rosatom is completing the construction of a two-unit nuclear power plant with water-cooled water-moderated energy reactor (VVER) with a total capacity of 2.4 GW according to the standard project of the 3+ generation, which fully complies with the post-Fukushima requirements and international standards. The organization’s specialists have already visited the construction site near the town of Ostrovets in the Grodno region several times. In their previous reports, they noted that Belarus has developed reliable security measures in the event of emergencies.
The intergovernmental agreement on the construction of the first nuclear power plant in Uzbekistan under the Russian project was concluded on 7 September 2018. The document was signed by the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev and the head of the Government of Uzbekistan Abdulla Oripov. Prior to this, at the end of December 2017, an intergovernmental agreement was signed on cooperation in the field of the peaceful use of atomic energy.
As expected, the first NPP in Uzbekistan will have two power units of generation “3+”with VVER-1200 reactors with a capacity of 1.2 GW each. The site near Tuzkan Lake in the Forish district of the Jizzakh region was chosen as the priority construction site. Geophysical and seismological work in this area is carried out by specialists of the Atomstroyexport enterprise (part of Rosatom) and the State Unitary Enterprise UzGASHKLITI. The construction of a nuclear power plant is planned for 2022 or even much earlier. According to a number of media, the work could start as early as 2020. The facility is scheduled to be commissioned before 2028. At the same time, the Uzbek side expressed interest in building two more similar power units of the same capacity.
According to some experts, taking into account the growing demand of Uzbekistan for electricity, nuclear energy should be included into the country’s energy balance as soon as possible. The commissioning of two NPP units will save up to 3.5 billion cubic meters of gas, which modern thermal power plants use now to provide almost 80% of electricity production.
According to the Ministry of Energy of Uzbekistan, at the moment, the country’s need for electricity is 69 billion kW/h, and its own production is only 64 billion. According to forecasts, in 10 years, energy consumption will increase to 117 billion kW / h, which is almost twice as much as today volumes.
Commenting on the upcoming construction of a nuclear power plant in Uzbekistan, the press service of Rosatom Central Asia noted that the joint project is proceeding rapidly thanks to the professionalism of the Uzbek colleagues and effective partnership between the parties.
“To date, a lot of work has already been done: the Agency for the Development of Nuclear Energy Uzatom has been created, and the relevant state program documents have been adopted. Now Uzbekistan is actively working to create a legislative framework to ensure the safe use of atomic energy in accordance with international best practices. The second stage of survey work has begun on a priority site near Lake Tuzkan in the Jizzakh region. However, this will not be the final data; the full cycle of surveys is planned to be completed by 2020. Then, it is planned to obtain a license to place the station on the selected site, after which the design phase of the station itself will begin and only after that we can start the construction. Engineering surveys involve not only Uzbek and Russian specialists, but also international experts; the entire process is implemented in accordance with international requirements and standards. The main task is to ensure that the site complies with all IAEA standards in order to fulfill the top priority, i.e. ensuring safety,” a subsidiary of state nuclear corporation Rosatom said in response to a corresponding request from PenzaNews.
Uzbekistan’s decision on NPP construction will be of key importance for the development of the country’s economy in the long term, as well as contribute to improving the quality of life of the population, the press service said.
“The implementation of such a large-scale project as the construction of large-capacity nuclear power plant makes a significant contribution to the economic and social development of the country. Taking into account international experience in building Russian nuclear power plants, it is estimated that 1 US dollar invested in nuclear power plants under the Rosatom project, which includes two VVER-1200 reactors and localization at the level of 20–30%, can bring 1.9 US dollars to local suppliers, 4,3 US dollars for the country’s GDP and 1.4 US dollars to the budget in the form of tax revenues,” the company said.
“[…] Technologies of the “3+” generation are able to ensure the safety of the plant even in the most extreme conditions and at the same time do no harm to the environment. Today it is the safest modern technology in the world, which, in particular, is confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency. […] The VVER-1200 project has references, that is, it successfully works in Russia – at the Leningrad and Novovoronezh nuclear plants. Today, Russian technologies have been chosen by countries such as Finland, Hungary, Turkey, India, Bangladesh, China and others. 36 power units in 12 countries are at different stages of implementation. It is worth noting that in Finland and Hungary, special attention is paid to environmental issues and the reduction of CO2 emissions. Their choice of the VVER-1200 project of the “3+” generation once again confirms that developed countries understand that nuclear energy is green energy,” the press service explained.
In turn, Vitaly Fedchenko, Senior Researcher in the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), stressed that the development of nuclear energy will require serious work from Tashkent.
“Now that Uzbekistan has announced its intention to produce nuclear energy, the state will have to move in this direction almost from scratch, joining existing international mechanisms, training personnel and creating its own independent nuclear regulator,” the expert said.
Speaking about the reliability of the future facility, he expressed the opinion that this topic should be considered, focusing on three main components: the safety of the station, its security and compliance with IAEA safeguards. Only such an approach, according to Vitaliy Fedchenko, will minimize the risks associated with the NPP operation, potential theft of nuclear materials, terrorism and sabotage.
At the same time, in his opinion, Uzbekistan is at the very beginning of the road and has every chance of a successful implementation of the project.
“Recalling the experience of other countries, it can be noted that the United Arab Emirates were in approximately the same situation 10–15 years ago. The state decided to build a nuclear power plant, concluded a contract with South Korea, and consistently began to resolve all emerging issues. It takes quite a lot of time and money, but it is possible,” Vitaly Fedchenko said.
Meanwhile, Edwin Lyman, Senior Scientist in the UCS Global Security Program, also pointed out that the country has just begun to move towards nuclear energy.
“It is critical for Uzbekistan or any other country that wants to begin a nuclear power program to establish a robust legal framework for nuclear energy safety and security and a regulatory authority that is fully independent and has the required technical expertise. Uzbekistan is only beginning to take steps in this direction, so it is difficult to say at this point whether it will meet this objective. Uzbekistan has also pledged to join the IAEA Convention on Nuclear Safety and three other critical international nuclear power conventions, but has not yet followed through, so it is also too early to tell if it is serious about this pledge,” the expert said.
In his opinion, one thing of a great concern is the statement by Jurabek Mirzamakhmudov, director general of Uzatom, that Uzbekistan is considering development of “processing technologies” for spent nuclear fuel.
“This is a dangerous direction. Reprocessing separates plutonium, which can be used in nuclear bombs. Such a plan could only raise suspicions among Uzbekistan’s neighbors that it has nuclear weapon ambitions. Uzbekistan should instead begin planning for a permanent repository for direct disposal of the spent fuel that its reactors will produce,” Edwin Lyman explained.
Independent Turkish Researcher Hasan Selim Ozertem, who previously held position of head of Energy Security Studies at the Turkish International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), noted the growing interest of Russia in Uzbekistan and Moscow’s trust in the new administration of the republic.
“Under Vladimir Putin, Russia managed to reestablish its influence in the Central Asia by establishing close relations with the leaders of Central Asian republics and cooperating in mega projects. However, under Islam Karimov Russia faced with limits of this cooperation as in the case of Uzbekistan’s membership to Eurasian Economic Union. Recently, the new administration under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev pursues a more open foreign policy and this feeds the hopes about a rapid development trend both in economic and political terms in the country. For Russia this will open the doors of the country for a wider cooperation as shown in Gazprom and Lukoil’s further engagements in developing energy sites in Uzbekistan. Russian interest in the country also contributes to Tashkent’s bargaining power with other actors in economic and political spheres as the Western countries and China increasingly show interest of further cooperation with the new government,” the analyst said.
Speaking about the importance of building a nuclear power plant in Uzbekistan, he stressed that the project will bring foreign direct investment which is more than 20 percent of the country’s GDP.
“Moreover, when completed the nuclear power plant is planned to supply 15 percent of country’s electricity demand in 2030s. In other words, the planned investment is equal to 30 percent of installed energy capacity of Uzbekistan as of 2019. […] Additionally, Uzbekistan is one of the biggest suppliers of uranium and has capacity to provide necessary fuel for the planned NPP from its resources,” Hasan Selim Ozertem said.
However, he added that economic instability, as well as problems in human capital, may cause some delays, which sometimes happen in the implementation of such projects.
“According to the available information, Rosatom plans to build a third generation NPP similar to the one that is in Novovoronezh II (V-392M). Novovoronezh II has been active since 2016 and a similar project is being constructed in Mersin Akkuyu, Turkey. These reactors are known to be among the safest and the most efficient ones in the world. Yet, construction process needs to be closely audited for implementation of safety measures and later for operational level. Both Chernobyl and Fukushima, even though the reactors in these incidents were old fashioned, show that the accident only happens once and then leaves a great catastrophe behind in nuclear technology,” the expert reminded.
“Regarding the security measures currently Uzbekistan has a stable atmosphere, after suffering from radical groups’ activities in the 1990s. Yet, the region is still stands on a slippery ground considering the problems in Afghanistan. In this regard, I believe the Uzbek government will take into account the security risks while implementing necessary measures to secure the nuclear site. Among these taking advantage of latest technology and getting best practices from other countries and the IAEA should be included,” Hasan Selim Ozertem said.
In turn, Georgy Tikhomirov, deputy director of the Institute of Nuclear Physics and Engineering of MEPhI, drew attention to the interest of Uzbekistan in training specialists for its future NPP.
“As soon as the parties signed the agreement, it was decided to create a branch of the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI in Uzbekistan to train personnel. And at the same time, certain efforts were made to increase the number of Uzbekistani students at the NRNU MEPhI in specialties oriented towards future operation of the nuclear power plant. On 1 September 2019, 100 people were recruited, and there were about 6 applicants per place. The selection was multifaceted. We hope that we will be able to prepare a worthy shift. The building of our branch was built not far from the Institute of Nuclear Physics of Uzbekistan, and campus work is now being completed. Everything takes its normal course. From the point of view of personnel training, Uzbekistan will be fully prepared to start operating its NPP,” Georgy Tikhomirov said.
In his opinion, the widespread use of nuclear technologies will entail a quantum leap in many areas.
“According to European experts, one euro invested in the nuclear industry is returned in the form of income of five euros from different areas. I think this is the right choice. Back in the USSR, Uzbekistan developed nuclear technology, participated in international projects. The signing of the agreement led Uzbekistan to reinstate its membership in the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR). In 1959, the first nuclear research reactor [BBP-CM with a capacity of 2 MW] was built at the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan near Tashkent in the village of Ulugbek. It still works, research is being carried out there, industrial developments are being conducted. I think that this project is important not only as an energy one, but also as a technological one, able to bring Uzbekistan to a new technological level,” the deputy director of the Institute of Nuclear Physics and Technology, NRNU MEPhI, explained.
Speaking about the prospects and timing of launching the NPP in Uzbekistan, the expert emphasized that Rosatom is successfully building modern power units in many countries around the world, using the latest developments of Russian scientists and designers.
“Now a dozen such blocks are under construction. The launch of the Belarusian NPP will take place soon. Construction is going on in Turkey and in Bangladesh. The second line of stations is being implemented in India and China. Construction agreements have already been signed with a number of other states. I think that having such a wide experience, the station will be built in the allotted time,” Georgy Tikhomirov concluded.