Kazakhstan dispatch: President Tokayev announces nuclear power plant proposal will be decided in a national referendum Dispatches
Kazakhstan dispatch: President Tokayev announces nuclear power plant proposal will be decided in a national referendum

Aidana Tastanova is a Kazakhstan national and a 4th year law student attending the Moscow State Institute of International Relations under a Kazakh government scholarship. 

On Friday, September 1, during an address to the people of Kazakhstan, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev proposed a national referendum on the issue of approval or rejection of the construction of a Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in the country.

The idea of building a Nuclear Power Plant has not arisen out of the blue. There have been frequent power outages in Kazakhstan in recent years. Problems with electricity at the end of January 2022 in Almaty and a number of regions of Kazakhstan have been cited in the proposal’s favor. It is very likely that these problems will only get worse in the future. Moreover, the country is already experiencing an acute shortage of electricity, and the implementation of this project would allow Kazakhstan to halt importing electricity and be less dependent on neighboring countries. In general, the use of peaceful atomic power is gaining momentum all over the world. Today, nuclear power is the most important sub-sector of global energy and makes a significant contribution to global electricity production.

There are, however, different opinions about the feasibility of building this facility. Part of the reason that Kazakhstan has not yet built an NPP is the negative experience of the country associated with radioactive consequences as a result of nuclear tests. These tests in Soviet times were carried out at landfills, including at the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. However, Kazakhstan, as the largest producer of uranium in the world, should arguably have its own nuclear generation. In this regard, it is necessary to continue public hearings and a comprehensive broad discussion on this issue.

There were also questions in Kazakh society about the competence of Kazakhstan, as a member state of the IAEA, to engage in this project and about potential violation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1970. Kazakhstan has made progress in implementing the recommendations of the mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency on a comprehensive review of nuclear infrastructure. Kazakhstan recently proposed a potential resumption of the use of nuclear energy to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, diversify the energy balance and reduce CO2 emissions. Moreover, in March 2023, a comprehensive nuclear infrastructure assessment mission visited Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, in order to assess the country’s readiness to consciously commit to the implementation of the nuclear energy program. Subsequently, the results of the audit turned out to be positive and the areas where improvements are needed for the development of nuclear energy in Kazakhstan were identified.

Given the importance of the NPP operation for the benefit of the population in the long term, it is necessary to take into account all possible aspects, including the problems of legal regulation in the operation of NPP. There is no room for doubt that the current regulatory framework needs to be improved. For instance, there is currently no general list of regulatory legal acts in the field of the use of atomic energy – an individual approach is applied for each object of the use of atomic energy. This is due to the fact that many of the relevant documents were developed and approved in the Soviet Union, and their effect is extended to Kazakhstan specifically for a particular installation. The regulatory framework will have to be expanded significantly. The full list of legal acts used in the creation of Nuclear Power Plants must necessarily include IAEA documents. And for the successful implementation of the provisions of conventions and agreements, some by-laws are still missing. It cannot be ruled out that starting with Kazakhstan’s Law on Atomic Energy of 2016, amendments will obviously be made more than once.

To a certain extent, the problems of legal regulation of an NPP in Kazakhstan can also be solved with the help of international strategic documents. In this regard, it makes sense to explore the Global Energy-Ecological Strategy and its principles. This is an interesting and useful document not only for Kazakhstan and the EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union) countries, but also for the whole world. At the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2007, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan N.A. Nazarbayev made a proposal to jointly develop a Global Energy-Ecological Strategy and put it on the agenda of the RIO+20 World Summit on Sustainable Development. The purpose of this international treaty would be to develop an extensive mechanism for the formation of a safe energy-ecological state of the planet for all mankind.

In the near future, the Kazakhstan Ministry of Energy, together with other state bodies, members of Parliament, industry experts and public activists, will work out all possible details of the implementation of this Presidential instruction and other aspects and will provide the public with detailed information about this issue. In any case, there is no doubt that the start of construction of a Nuclear Power Plant on the territory of Kazakhstan is only a matter of time, and the decision to put this issue to a nationwide vote will avoid reproaches from the population in the future and will hopefully become a starting point for the realization of a large-scale goal in the name of the state.