The President of Kazakhstan has stated in his recent state-of-the-nation address that amongst other major reforms to the structure of the economy he wants to seek the views of the electorate on building a nuclear power plant through a referendum.
There is much to unpack here. First and foremost this is brave leadership in action given the tragic history of the abuses committed in Kazakhstan by the Soviets as they developed nuclear weapons; there is a natural aversion of many people in the country to anything nuclear. Undoubtedly a compelling argument can be made internally and I would be confident that the public will consider the merits of clean nuclear energy meeting their future needs.
In the international sphere, I would assert that it is manifestly the case that no country deserves support in the development of its civilian nuclear energy more than Kazakhstan. There are three reasons for this: Kazakhstan inherited the bulk of the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons, materials and expertise yet chose to unilaterally disarm and pursue a future free from nuclear weapons; Kazakhstan serves the world’s nuclear safety protocols by having established and still successfully operating the Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) Bank which under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) enables countries to acquire nuclear material for civilian use in a secure way; and because Kazakhstan is once again showing inspiring leadership in transitioning to a low carbon economy.
The referral of such an historic and momentous decision to the voting public is an expression of the Kazakh government’s faith in engaged democratic politics. Such initiatives are to be applauded and supported. All too often critics attack Kazakhstan whenever there is even the slightest rumor that something has occurred against democratic norms and so it behooves us to do the opposite when such trust based democratic actions are undertaken and more so when undertaken in the absence of duress.
If the Kazakh citizens vote to build a nuclear power plant the world’s advanced nuclear energy nations must be ready to offer the maximum amount of support. We best show our moral and political leadership through concrete action in support of long-term partnerships, and especially where short term political gain is not the aim. The United Kingdom, above all others, is best placed to support the building of a civilian nuclear energy sector in Kazakhstan. Expertise provided by both state institutions and private sector entities can be readily brought to bear. The British government has just announced £650 million (379 billion tenge) funding for cutting edge fusion research and Rolls Royce have established a Small Modular Reactor manufacturing plant to support global transition to clean energy. These, and other initiatives, coupled with 30 years of diplomatic relations form the basis of a framework for an effective execution of such a major infrastructure project as building a nuclear power station.
Furthermore the centrality of the English language and the tens of thousands of British-educated Kazakh add further strength to the enduring relationship between the U.K. and Kazakhstan. If the country decides to embrace nuclear energy it is prescient to support Kazakhstan in achieving clean energy security.
The author is Afzal Amin, the CEO of London Expertise company (U.K.), AREMCA Ltd (Kazakhstan) and founder of the Burns-Abai Society.