Kazakhstan to ask citizens if they want nuclear power

A crater from nuclear testing at Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan. The Soviet Union conducted 456 nuclear tests in the country from 1949 until 1989, exposing more than a million people to fallout (CTBTO/CC BY 2.0)
The Central Asian state of Kazakhstan is planning to hold a referendum to decide whether to build its first nuclear power plant, Caspian News reports.

The announcement was made by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev during a national address on Friday.

He said the issue had divided experts, with some pointing to the need to increase generating capacity to head off an electricity shortage – predicted by 2030 – and others highlighting the cost and safety risks.

He said: “That’s why we need to continue public hearings and hold detailed, wide-ranging discussions on this issue. We need to take the final decision on important strategic issues through a referendum.”

Some of the preliminary work for a future station has already been carried out. A site has been identified near Lake Balkhash in the southeastern Almaty region, and Russia’s Rosatom has been nominated as a potential partner.

According to Caspian News, Kazakhstan’s enthusiasm for nuclear projects may be affected by its history as home to the Semipalatinsk nuclear weapons testing ground. It has been estimated that around 1.5 million people were exposed to fallout over the 40 years the site was in use.

On the other hand, Kazakhstan is the world’s largest producer of uranium, holding around 12% of recoverable ore, so the cost of operating a future nuclear fleet would capitalise on that. 

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