Kazakhstan stands in good position in nuclear development – Dr. Bilbao

Nuclear energy
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Balzhan Samigullina of Silk Way TV Channel sat down with Dr. Sama Bilbao y León, Director General of the World Nuclear Association, to talk about Kazakhstan’s plans to build its own nuclear power plant, whether it is safe to construct it and what future holds for nuclear energy in the context of the global green transition. You can watch the interview here.

Doctor Bilbao, thank you for having us. Kazakhstan is considering to construct its own nuclear power plant. How do you assess the country’s ambition, as Director General of the World Nuclear Association?

Thank you for having me, first of all. First thing is, of course, a referendum. People of Kazakhstan need to agree if they want to move forward with the nuclear power plant. But if that is a positive result, I think Kazakhstan is in a very good position to be very successful in this program, because, first of all, Kazakhstan has already had nuclear power in the past. And second of all, currently, with KazAtomProm and the uranium mining industry, plus all the additional supply chain and all these other industries related to nuclear, already exist in Kazakhstan, I think there are very good opportunities for Kazakhstan to be very successful.

In the light of the construction of the first-ever nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan, there is an active discussion of this topic in the society. Experts analyze both the risks and benefits of nuclear energy. We have had the accidents in Japan, the U.S. and Russia. Have the technologies for nuclear energy progressed since then? Is it safe to build nuclear power plant in our country nowadays?

Nuclear power plant is currently the safest way to produce electricity, and this is despite those events that you have mentioned. But the reality is that, right now, as we are looking at three very important things that most countries are looking at. Number 1, decarbonization. Number 2, energy security and energy independence. And number 3, equity and access. In other words, making sure that the average person in every country has access to affordable, abundant, and clean 24/7 energy. When you put all those things together, nuclear energy does bubble up as one of the very good choices. And this is what we are seeing that many countries all over the world, are actually recognizing the very important role that nuclear energy has today and has had for the last 50+ years. Nuclear energy is today the second largest source of clean energy only behind hydropower, so that's very important. And then all these countries are also looking at new nuclear projects. I think that the future is quite bright. These 50 years of a lot of work, improvement and lessons learned, collaboration internationally is making nuclear energy a very good choice for many countries.

If to speak about the global trends, can we say that the world is increasingly short of clean energy sources?

Oh, yeah, absolutely. As you know, we have the Paris Agreement, by which we really need to meet net zero goals by 2050. And today, we are very, very far away from meeting those goals. So, we need much more clean energy sources in general.

In this regard, what solutions can Kazakhstan offer?

According to your energy plan that we were discussing yesterday with many people from the energy department, we had the vice minister here mentioned in your plan, Kazakhstan is planning to reach net zero by 2060, which is still very ambitious. Particularly, given that Kazakhstan is a very industrialized country. You have a lot of natural resources, a lot of mining, industry, metallurgy. Clearly, I think that the government has put forward which include nuclear, of course, if the country agrees after the referendum, is a pragmatic and a realistic plan. Because sometimes we see that some countries have goals, but then there is no actual plan that actually is going to take us to achieve the goals. In the case of Kazakhstan, it looks like, there is a little bit of pragmatism that has been injected into this plan.

The World Nuclear Association supports the activities of the World Nuclear University. Are there any Kazakh specialists involved in educational programs?

Yes, the World Nuclear University is one of the activities that we do. The main role of this activity is to inspire and to lead and develop the next generation of nuclear leaders. One of the things that we do is very important for the nuclear industry is what we call the Summer Institute. Right now we have over 1,200 fellows that have participated in the Summer Institute for the last 18 or so years. Several of those, I don't actually know the number, but several of those are actually from Kazakhstan.

To conclude our interview, let me ask the last question. What future do you envision for nuclear energy in the context of the global green transition?

I think it is a very positive outlook for nuclear. As you know, already in COP 28, we had 199 countries that in the global stocktake highlighted how nuclear energy was one of the technologies that needed to be accelerated if we want to reach the Paris Agreement goals. In particular, there were 25 countries that actually committed to reaching three times nuclear capacity by 2050. So, this is an ambitious goal. It's going to take a lot of effort from governments, but also from the nuclear industry. But, I think that given the size and the urgency of the climate change challenge, I really think that we need to raise our ambitions and do our best to get there.

Thank you for having us. It was pleasure to talk to you.

It's my pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

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