ASTANA – On January 24, the Kazatomprom National Atomic Company reported its production activities in 2012.
The company’s work has been conducted within its development strategy, aimed at keeping Kazakhstan’s current leading position in the world uranium market. Kazatomprom is becoming a transnational, vertically-integrated company involved in all stages of the atomic fuel cycle. It is also expanding in the fields of rare-earth metals and alternative energy sources.
Over the past 21 years, Kazatomprom has become one of the world leaders in the production and processing of uranium. It has consolidated the advantage of Kazakhstan in the most advanced markets in the world and has demonstrated the sustainable development, high profitability and prospects of the atomic industry.
New opportunities and directions are emerging. The company has started new projects in the research and processing of rare metals. It also promotes the growth of the domestic chemical industry. Working with French partners, Kazatomprom has successfully created a project to produce nuclear fuel components at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant.
Kazatomprom has also launched projects to generate renewable energy based on wind and solar power. It has started to manufacture heat pump installations.
The highly original Bolotov wind-rotors were designed by the famous Kazakh scientist Academician Albert Bolotov and are unique in the world. The new wind power plants are a part of a large-scale programme that Kazatomprom is pursuing in alternative green energy.
These projects have allowed Kazatomprom to create new jobs in the country. The programmes use components from local companies and have cut the costs of energy production. They have also reduced pollution into the atmosphere.
Kazatomprom says it is continuing its prospecting operations to find new uranium deposits around the country. In the past year, the company drilled more than 2,000 exploration wells with a combined depth of 1,010,000 metres. Three billion tenge will be spent on more prospecting projects to increase the known uranium reserves by 20,000 tons over the next three years.
In 2012, work was completed on preparing the new sulfuric acid plant in the Zhanakorgan region of Kyzylorda province. The plant will provide all Kazatomprom’s requirements of sulfuric acid and in 2012, it produced 98,000 tons.
The Zhanakorgan plant was built by Kazatomprom in partnership with its Mining Company, the Japan Corporation of Japan (SAP) and Uranium One of Canada. It is more advanced than any comparable plant in Europe or the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Sulfuric acid is the main reagent used by the in-situ leaching (ISL) method of uranium production. The plant will supply sulfuric acid to the Khorassan-1, Khorassan-2, Northern and Southern Karamurun uranium mines. It will eventually produce 500,000 tons of sulfuric acid per year, or 1,500 tons per day. The plant cost $216 million to build.
The plant uses advanced technology that is effective and environmentally friendly. Some 99.9 percent of its raw material is converted to the finished product. Its production processes are fully automatised.
The plant produces its own electricity that also contributes to the local power grid. Eventually it will generate 18 МW. The plant will make Kazatomprom less dependent on foreign suppliers of sulfuric acid.
The sulfuric acid plant was the first step in Kazatomprom’s import substitution programme. The company next plans to start producing its own ion exchange resins and hydrogen peroxide in a new complex of chemical plants in Pavlodar and Aktau. It is planning to build a series of mini-plants to manufacture sulfuric acid using nano-catalysts directly at the uranium mines.
Kazatomprom is working with Canada’s Cameco Corporation to start conversion production in the nuclear fuel cycle. The company signed a Memorandum of Mutual Understanding with Cameco in September 2012 to create the new project at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant.
In November 2012, NAC Kazatomprom and the TVEL OJSC Fuel Company of Russia’s Rosatom Corporation signed an agreement to build an alternative Uranium Enrichment Centre. Work on it is expected to start in the first half of 2013.
In 2012, Kazatomprom and the French AREVA Company worked on a joint feasibility study about producing nuclear fuel in Kazakhstan.
In November 2012, Kazatomprom and the Sumitomo Corporation of Japan launched the Summit Atom Rare Earth Company (SARECO) Joint Venture to build a new industrial complex producing rare earth metals (REM) in Stepnogorsk city in the Akmola region. A new REM pilot factory costing about $30 million was built in Stepnogorsk. Kazatomprom owns 51 percent of SARECO and Sumitomo 49 percent.
The plant, launched last year, is a unique complex for the thermal and hydrometallurgical processing of rare earth metals. It embodies the work of Kazakh, Japanese and European scientists and engineers. It has advanced environmental safety systems and will produce 1,500 tons of TREO (amount of REM oxides) per year, rising to 3,000 tons of TREO in 2015, and up to 5,000-6,000 tons by 2017.
Most of the plant’s output will be of heavy rare earth metals, which are in great demand for use in high tech appliances manufactured in Japan. Its first exports are expected in the first half of 2013.
The Stepnogorsk plant will not restrict its production to the primary product of bulk REM concentrates. By 2015, it will also contain an isotope separation facility and will produce rare earth metals magnets.
Rare earth metals production is a new form of industrial-innovative development for Kazakhstan. It introduces more value-added high technology production into the country and allows it to enter the REM market. Kazatomprom plans to increase the production capacity of the Stepnogorsk plant and build more in the future.
Demand for rare earth metals, especially dysprosium and neodymium, is expected to increase rapidly in the near future due to the increasing popularity of hybrid and electric cars. Rare earth metals are also important in preparing special structural steels and alloys to make powerful permanent magnets, coloured glass and lasers. They are used in the defense industry and in agriculture.
The Core Consultants analytical group values the current global annual demand for rare earth metals at $15 billion. There is an annual shortage of 20,000 tons in the production of such critically important rare earth metals as neodymium, europium, terbium, dysprosium and yttrium. China is drastically cutting its export of these REMs to give priority in using them in its own industries. Some 140,000 tons was produced around the world in 2012, and that figure is expected to rise to 200,000 tons by 2015.
In the field of renewable energy, Kazatomprom is already manufacturing its own solar panels based on domestically-produced silicon in the KazPV Project Astana. The factory to make them opened in December 2012. Also last year, the company opened a new silicon processing plant for the solar panels in Ust-Kamenogorsk city.
In 2012, Kazatomprom opened another silicon production plant in Ushtobe village in the Almaty region where it also resumed quartz production.
KazPV is also implementing new high tech joint projects between Kazakhstan and France that were signed during President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s official visit there in October 2010. KazPV promotes sustainable economic growth, knowledge-intensive industries and renewable energy sources.
The Astana Solar Plant is the final technological unit in KazPV’s master plan to construct a fully integrated industrial production line of alternative energy sources in Kazakhstan.
The Astana Solar Plant will manufacture photovoltaic panels made of entirely domestically produced silicon with an estimated capacity of 60 MW and a further expansion up to 100 MW. The plant is equipped with the latest automated generating equipment meeting the highest safety and environmental standards. It will come up to full capacity in the next two months.
The Astana plant’s solar panels will be sold both in the domestic and international markets. The company has already signed several contracts, including with the joint Kazakhstan-French Company KATCO, the uranium-mining joint venture of AREVA and Kazatomprom, to make panels for AREVA factories in France. Kazatomprom also plans a joint venture with French companies to build and operate combined hydro-electric, solar and wind power stations on the rivers flowing from the mountains of the East Kazakhstan and Almaty regions.
The KazSilicon metallurgical plant started operating on Dec. 31, 2006, when the first Kazakhstan’s industrial silicon was extracted. Kazatomprom became the only participant in the project on Oct. 31, 2011.
The KazSilicon plant is equipped with modern metallurgical equipment and has an automated control system. Its output will be sent to Ust-Kamenogorsk city for further processing and then transported to Astana to make solar panels. The finished products will be exported to Asia, Western Europe and Japan. Kazatomprom is also considering exporting its silicon to Germany and the United States.
The Quartz Company LLP (limited liability partnership) is also involved in the process of making photovoltaic solar panels based on KazPV’s domestically produced silicon. Kazatomprom became the sole shareholder of the Quartz Company on Oct. 31, 2011.
The Quartz Company extracts its product from the unique quartz field at Sarykulskoe with proven reserves of 1.7 million tons. The quartz is then processed to make metallurgical silicon at the KazSilicon metallurgical plant.
The Quartz Company control its own production cycle, quality control and manufacturing processes. Quartz grit is widely used in industrial production, especially in the fields of aerospace, electric power, electronics, semiconductors and medical equipment.
A new heat pump boiler started operating at the Kirov secondary school in East Kazakhstan on Oct. 30, 2012. It was the first heat pump units (HPU) made by Mashzavod, a subsidiary of Umba Mettallurgical Plant, to be used in schools.
The heat pump consumes low heat from the environment and transmits it into the heat supply system in the form of hot water or air. The school has two heat pump boilers with a total capacity of 317 kW. Their heat source will be groundwater. Each heat pump cost 60 million tenge.
Kazatomprom Chairman Vladimir Shkolnik said the project was the first ever in Kazakhstan and would serve a model for future energy-saving technologies.
In 2012, Kazatomprom opened a horizontal-pellicle desalination plant at the Mangistau energy complex to distil fresh water from the sea. Its capacity is 12,000 cubic metres per day and it will reach full capacity this year.
All these new projects are part of the successful implementation of the 2010-2014 State Programme for Accelerated Industrial-Innovative Development (PAIID) to boost domestic technology, science and training.
Kazatomprom has also been recognized as one of the best run industrial corporations in Kazakhstan. KPMG experts gave it a 70.4 percent rating in 2012, making it the highest rated of all the Samruk-Kazyna Sovereign Welfare Fund’s companies.
Kazatomprom produced 11,900 tons of uranium in 2012, or more than 20 percent of total world production. Overall, at year-end 2012, the uranium production volume in the Republic of Kazakhstan made up 20.900 tons (this figure includes all joint ventures where Kazatomprom has a stake).
Kazakhstan remains the world’s leading uranium producer with approximately 37 percent of the total global uranium production of 55,700 tons in 2012.
In that year, Kazatomprom exported 9,260 thousand tons of uranium in concentrated form. The company also produced 213 tons of tantalum, 43 tons of niobium and 2,526 tons of beryllium.
In December 2012, Kazatomprom won President Nazarbayev’s special Innovative Breakthrough award and was recognised as an Innovative Leader.