On April 26, the anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, CAN EECCA published its position on nuclear energy. In addition, we sent letters to the three governments of the countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan – where nuclear power plants are planned. We were interested in whether the governments of these countries really fully realize all the risks associated with the possible construction of nuclear power plants on their territories.
According to our observations, public discussions and media debates on nuclear energy are often accompanied by many stereotypes and inaccuracies. Therefore, in our position we provided enough facts to enable decision-makers and the public to familiarize themselves with the situation and understand that the development of nuclear power in the EECCA region creates more problems than solutions.
What did we get in response?
The Ministry of Energy of Kazakhstan responded quite quickly and familiarized itself with our position. The response letter, signed by Vice Minister Zhandos Nurmaganbetov, states that Kazakhstan aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, but due to the limited lifetime of solar and wind energy sources, construction of a nuclear power plant is being considered.
We also received a response from Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, in which they insist that gas and nuclear power are considered green energy because “the European Commission has put gas and nuclear power on the list of green technologies.” However, uranium mining produces greenhouse gases, raising doubts about the environmental friendliness of this energy form. The consequences of nuclear power plant accidents, such as Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011, demonstrate that entire regions are rendered uninhabitable for long periods of time, and the huge costs of remediation are borne by society rather than the industry.
The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources emphasizes that the choice of a nuclear power plant site should be based on favorable natural and technical conditions, as well as positive public opinion. However, the question remains whether people know enough about the risks and how open this information is. Also in June, it became known that the issue of building a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan will not be put to a referendum after all, which raises additional questions.
Regarding “Rosatom,” the vice-minister replied that no one is bending its line, and all companies are looking for cooperation. The project of a low-capacity nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan is still at the stage of a preliminary feasibility study, and the final decision on the construction of a nuclear power plant will be made taking into account all aspects, including public opinion and parliament.
The Ministry of Natural Resources, Ecology and Technical Control of Kyrgyzstan has provided detailed explanations regarding cooperation with Rosatom and the processing of uranium-containing raw materials.
The Kyrgyz Republic Government Resolution No. 314 of June 24, 2019, “On the prohibition of activities related to geological prospecting, exploration, development of uranium, thorium deposits in the Kyrgyz Republic” refers to restrictions on the import of raw materials. The ministry claims that uranium-containing raw materials (which are radioactive) will be mined and processed by Rosatom at nuclear fuel cycle enterprises owned by the corporation, none of which are located in Kyrgyzstan. Finished fuel assemblies (FAs) will be imported into Kyrgyzstan to be loaded into the nuclear power reactor.
In November 2022, the Ministry of Energy of Kyrgyzstan and Rosatom Energy Projects signed the Terms of Reference for a pre-feasibility study for the construction of the nuclear power plant in Kyrgyzstan. However, members of the “Green Alliance of Kyrgyzstan” opposed this initiative and launched a petition. The Ministry of Energy of Kyrgyzstan responded to our position-application as follows: “…Current arrangements do not imply immediate implementation of the ASMM project, the decision on construction of the station has not been made at the moment, now only the possibility of project implementation is being studied. It is important to note, according to Article 11 of the Kyrgyz Republic Law No. 8 of January 28, 1997, as amended on July 24, 2019, No. 99 “On Electricity”, “The construction of any nuclear power plant must be authorized by a decision of the Jogorku Kenesh of the Kyrgyz Republic.”
Kyrgyzstan has been unable to solve the problem of uranium tailings in the country for several years. In 2019, more than 200 environmental activists went to a demonstration in Bishkek against uranium mining by Russian companies. After the rally, the government set up a commission to “thoroughly” study the environmental impact of uranium mine operations.
At the same time, members of parliament initiated two bills on a moratorium on uranium mining. One of them provides for a moratorium on uranium mining throughout the country until 2070, while the other establishes a ban for 20 years and is limited only to the Issyk-Kul region. How the initiative to build a nuclear power plant in the country will affect these moratoria is not yet known.
Uzbek officials have not yet responded to our position.