Timur Zhantikin, director of Kazakhstan’s Atomic Energy Agency, stated on September 11 that the planned construction of the country’s new nuclear power station will more than likely go ahead (Reuters, September 11). The station will be built on the banks of Lake Balkhash, about 400 kilometers north of Kazakhstan’s former capital Almaty, and the projected cost of the plant is US$2 billion (Focus Central Asia [Almaty], March 6).
Possessing a claimed quarter of the world’s uranium, Kazakhstan certainly has the resources to develop a nuclear power industry. The Lake Balkhash plant is one of two or three Kazakhstan has said it may build by 2003. The plant is set to include three Russian VVER-640 reactors, each with an annual capacity to produce 640 megawatts of electricity. The republic’s economic transition, however, has dampened potential electricity demand and Russia’s economic crisis now casts doubt over the near-term delivery of the reactors to Lake Balkhash. South Kazakhstan was in part chosen because it is one of the republic’s most energy-starved regions. One alternative had been Semey, location of the former Soviet nuclear testing site in the east of the Republic–but it was rejected because of widespread local antinuclear opposition.
Currently, Kazakhstan has five nuclear power stations. Four are used only for research, while the fifth, situated in the Caspian port of Aktau, is due to be closed by 2003. Aktau was the first reactor constructed in the former Soviet Union, and supplies the town with fresh water and some electricity. Plans to convert the facility have been stalled both by cash shortages and by the lack of immediate alternative sources to satisfy the electricity needs of Aktau’s inhabitants (Focus Central Asia [Almaty], March 6). The United States will assist Kazakhstan in transporting over three tons of weapons-grade plutonium-bearing material from the Aktau reactor to the plutonium storage facilities of Semey. Transportation, likely to begin on November 1, will be by rail and, according to US officials and companies, is expected to take several years due to the complexity and scale of the operation (Itar-Tass, September 7).–SC
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