Kazakhstan reckon pros and cons of nuclear power plant construction

Photo: Kazakhstan reckon pros and cons of nuclear power plant construction / Economy news

Baku, Azerbaijan, March 4
By Elena Kosolapova- Trend:

A nuclear power plant will be built in the Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan in near future. Thus decreed the country's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The government has yet to decide on the site, terms and investments for the future plant during the first quarter of 2014. Consequently, the construction of the plant will likely start in the current year.

However the issue regarding nuclear energy remains a major concern in the country.
The opponents remind of the catastrophic failure at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in 2011 which resulted in nuclear disaster.

Moreover, the Kazakhs have firsthand experience of the consequences of radiation. The primary testing venue for the Soviet Union's nuclear weapons - Semipalatinsk Test Site - was located in the Kazakh steppe. Despite the closing of the test site in 1991, the local population is still suffering from the effects of nuclear testing. Life expectancy is seven year less here compared to other Kazakh regions and women still give birth to children with genetic disorders and mental deficiencies. Such diseases as cancer, thyroid disease, cardiovascular diseases, etc. are much more common here than in other regions of the country.

Meanwhile the pros for the new nuclear plant are also quite persuasive.

The main argument of the supporters of the presidential initiative is Kazakhstan's great uranium reserves - the main fuel for the plant. Kazakhstan remains the world biggest uranium producer since 2009 and produced 22,500 tons in 2013 (38 percent of the world mining volume). Currently the country exports all the producing uranium.
Experts within and outside the country also note that new technologies are much safer that the ones which existed in 50-60s years of the twentieth century and even installed in Fukushima.

"Modern nuclear plants can be designed to safely withstand and very severe natural events such as earthquake, floods, tornadoes, etc," Jacopo Buongiorno, Associate Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering in Massachusetts Institute of Technology told Trend.

Moreover nuclear energy is cheaper and more environmentally friendly than hydrocarbons and coal.

"Nuclear energy is safe technology, does not emit CO2, it scales much easier and reliable than renewable energy sources; its fuel is plentiful and inexpensive," Buongiorno said.
That is why Mr. Buongiorno believes that the world will use nuclear energy more and more in the future and this trend is evident already in large countries such as China and India, and some Middle East countries.

Edward D. Arthur, PhD, Research Professor in Nuclear Engineering Program at the University of New Mexico also believes that nuclear energy is a necessary energy source required to meet the ever increasing electricity demands associated with economic growth and noted that developing economies such as China and India are pursuing construction of significant numbers of new nuclear plants.

"In discussion of energy sources nuclear plays a strong role, with renewables, in providing electricity without concurrent production of atmospheric pollution and greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide)," Mr. Arthur told Trend.

From a technical perspective the design requirements and redundant systems incorporated in a constructed nuclear power plant are all aimed at reducing, to lowest levels, the possibility and consequences of an accident in terms of risks to the safety and well being of the general public, according to the expert.

Mr. Arthur also noted that Kazakhstan has significant experience in the handling, transportation, and secure storage of used fuel produced during reactor operation and substantial nuclear infrastructure.

"To me it appears that Kazakhstan is taking appropriate measures to ensure operational safety elements are built in from the beginning in terms of its nuclear licensing and regulatory environment," he said.

Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, carbon-free source of electricity suitable for base load electrical power generation, thus it does not contribute to global warming, William R. Martin, Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences at the University of Michigan, told Trend.

"Think of the energy needs for China and India - if coal is used to provide electricity, irreversible climate change will occur," Mr. Martin said.

Moreover he believes that modern nuclear power plant are totally safe.

"Safety became paramount after Fukushima. The four reactors involved in that accident belonged to what were known as Generation II boiling-water reactors, designed in the 1960s. Their safety system was based on a network of pumps, valves, and pipes that failed when the plant's backup generators were disabled. Newer Generation III designs, on the other hand, incorporated so-called passive safety systems that would continue to operate even after a station blackout," Mr. Martin wrote earlier in the article for Encyclopedia Britannica.

Akira Tokuhiro, professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering from the University of Idaho believes that commercial nuclear power does have a role in developing and emerging nations.

"However, political, financial and ethnic stability, as well as an educated workforce for operating the [nuclear power] plant is absolutely necessary over a period of 50-75 years... Political and financial stability as well as a well-trained workforce are key to 'safe' nuclear power in emerging nuclear nations," Tokuhiro told Trend.

He also noted that placing of a new nuclear plant in any nation surrounded by or in close proximity to impoverished and/or politically unstable nations, introduces 'new threats' to the country and the new nuclear power plant will create a new 'target' at which dissenting group may focus on.

Meanwhile from the perspective earthquakes Kazakhstan is quite safe for nuclear construction, according to Tokuhiro.

In general, in spite of all concerns concerning safety of nuclear energy is very popular. Nuclear energy is used to generate around 11 percent of the world's electricity and produced in more than 30 countries around the world according to the World Nuclear Association. Among nuclear producers are such developed countries as Belgium (51 percent of all the energy produced in the country in 2012), Canada (15.3 percent), Czech Republic (35.3 percent), Finland (32.6 percent), France (74.8 percent), Germany (16.1 percent), Hungary (45.9 percent), Spain (20.5 percent), Sweden (38.1 percent), Switzerland (35.9 percent), UK (18.1 percent), US (19 percent) and so on, World Nuclear Association's data said. And these countries do not suffer from nuclear power plants.

A decision on the construction of nuclear power plants in Kazakhstan is unlikely to be cancelled. And the main task now for Kazakhstan is to ensure its safety.

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