Efficient management of nuclear energy will lead to further industrial and scientific development in Kazakhstan, greatly enhance the country’s competitiveness in the global economy and help it become one of the 30 most-developed countries of the world.
This year, the first in the world Obninsk nuclear power plant marks its 60th anniversary. Over those decades, nuclear energy has changed significantly: reactors have become much more powerful than the first five-megawatt plant and the power of the atomic unit now exceeds fifteen hundred megawatts. Their economic performance and safety have also tangibly improved.
Today, there are 435 reactors with a total installed capacity of 372 GW in the world and 72 nuclear power units are under construction. Of those, the majority of nuclear power plants are on the territories of industrialised countries. But in the last few years, a number of states have started developing their own atomic energy programmes and construction of nuclear power plants (NPP), for example the United Arab Emirates, Belarus, Turkey and Vietnam. More countries have also announced their intention to develop nuclear energy and have begun to implement their plans.
The construction of atomic power stations not only satisfies the growing demand for energy, but leads to the improvement of the ecological situation because the companies that produce energy from fossil fuels account for about half of the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.
Burning fuel at thermal power plants leads to the formation of combustion products containing fly ash, particles of pulverized fuel, sulfur and sulfur trioxide, nitrogen oxides and gaseous products of incomplete combustion. The amount of waste generated by nuclear power plants is far less. Moreover, as a result of a 60-year experience in the development of nuclear energy, the world has reached a high level of technological safety in the management of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel and has solved the problems of their negative impact on the environment.
Like any industry, nuclear power had problems as it evolved. The first serious accident at the American nuclear power station Three Mile Island and then at Chernobyl showed the danger of such a powerful source of energy when used carelessly. Since that time, however, the industry’s approach to the security of nuclear reactors and control and responsibility for their reliability have fundamentally changed. The main cause of all accidents was human error. That’s why special attention has been paid to the openness of issues of safety at nuclear installations for professionals and the public.
After events at the Fukushima plant in 2011, the international community is taking all necessary measures to further enhance the level of nuclear safety. The work is being carried out in several main areas: improving the self-protection of reactor systems, increasing the availability of multiple safety barriers and multiplying overlapping safety channels. The exteriors of modern nuclear reactors are also designed to withstand extreme incidents, such as the impact of a plane crash, natural catastrophes or directed explosions.
In organisational terms, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) came to the conclusion that one of the main causes of events at Fukushima was the lack of an independent oversight body in the country to monitor the security of nuclear energy and to bear responsibility for it. This opinion of the authoritative international organisation was taken into account and a separate state agency that regulates the safety of nuclear energy use was established in Japan.
Also, we must bear in mind that such energy sources as coal, gas and oil are consumed more rapidly and, according to various forecasts, may be depleted in the second half of the 21st century. This makes the development of a new energy strategy with the latest technologies relevant as never before.
The economics of nuclear power allows the state to build an energy strategy, which provides the most efficient use of available resources. Even countries with a rich base of raw materials, such as the United Arab Emirates and Iran, give priority to nuclear energy, taking into account decreasing hydrocarbon resources and their price on the world market. It is much more profitable to export hydrocarbons or use them in other industries than just burn them in the boilers of power plants.
At present, the Republic of Kazakhstan accounts for about 19 percent of the world’s known uranium reserves. The country’s resources on the whole are estimated at about 1.7 million tons. Expert evaluation shows that the proportion of uranium calculated as energy resources of conventional fuel is more than 40 percent. In 2009, Kazakhstan produced 14 tons of uranium, and as a result, our country became the world’s largest producer of natural uranium. Uranium production in 2013 amounted to 22,500 tons.
We also should not forget about such factors as the development of high-tech industries associated with nuclear power, the creation of skilled manpower and a modern scientific and technological base. All this is particularly important for Kazakhstan, which is now an undisputed leader in global uranium production, but which has no nuclear power plants. This is particularly illogical taking into account the fact that the world’s first nuclear power station with a fast neutron reactor was launched on the territory of our republic. By the way, this technology allows more efficient use of nuclear fuel, by hundreds of times and is considered promising in the nuclear industry of the 21st century.
In Kazakhstan, production of electricity in 2013 reached 91.9 billion kW/h with consumption at 89.6 billion kW/h. Of that, the share of coal generators was 74 percent, gas 17 percent, hydro-power stations 8.4 percent and renewable energy sources less than 1percent.
Kazakhstan has all the prerequisites for the development of nuclear energy: significant reserves of uranium; a developed processing industry, nuclear science and qualified human resources.
Construction of nuclear power plants in Kazakhstan will be the main link in the nuclear fuel cycle. It will engage in the energy industry of the republic significant reserves of uranium and thereby diversify generation capacities and optimise the use of available hydrocarbon resources. The development of nuclear energy will lead to further progress in uranium mining and processing and related industries, create new jobs, considerably enhance the country’s competitiveness in the global economy and help it become one of the 30 most-developed countries.
No less important is the fact that the construction of nuclear power plants will raise the level of the intellectual and technological development of the Republic of Kazakhstan due to the introduction of high technologies and knowledge-intensive industries, which are the foundation of the accelerated and sustainable development of the economy as a whole. A personnel reserve for the nuclear industry is one of the key issues of its sustainable development. Several universities in Kazakhstan over a dozen years have accumulated experience in training atomic industry specialists. There are a number of other unique opportunities in the country for the acquisition of practical skills, such as heavy ion accelerator in Astana.
In his recent state-of-the-nation address, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev instructed the government to resolve in the first quarter of this year the issues of a location and the timing of construction of a nuclear power plant. Earlier in 2013, a commission and a working group, which included representatives of state agencies and organisations were established to develop proposals for the placement and configuration of an NPP on the territory of Kazakhstan. Three potential areas were chosen: Aktau (Mangistau atomic energy complex), a settlement in Ulken in the Almaty region (the site of the South Kazakhstan GRES) and the Kurchatov district of the East Kazakhstan oblast.
It’s worth noting that the choice of the plant’s location is a multifactorial task and is being decided on the basis of long-term plans for the consumption and production of electricity, characteristics of electric networks and plans to build new grids. Also, it is important to take into account other conditions when determining the location for an NPP, including seismic, geological, climatic and anthropogenic factors, infrastructure development and the possible impact on the environment.
As international experience shows, the construction of a nuclear power plant requires about 10 years, including selection of a suitable site, development of a feasibility study and conducting an international tender for the construction.
Thereby, we can say that today Kazakhstan is conducting the first phase, which is selecting a location, which requires thorough analysis on the basis of a feasibility study.
Today, we are on the threshold of an important decision on the construction of an atomic power station in Kazakhstan. Efficient management of nuclear energy in the country will allow us to develop high-tech and promising industries, use our uranium stocks for own needs and ensure energy security in the long term.
The author is Vice Minister of Industry and New Technologies of Kazakhstan.