“The cat would eat fish and would not wet her feet”, this is how the discussion of the issue of the possibility of building a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan can be described. This question is constantly raised and discussed at the highest, professional level, but also among ordinary people, civil activists, since the seriousness and complexity of the topic is obvious.

The current impetus for an active discussion of the topic of building a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan was given by the President of Kazakhstan K.K. Tokayev, who outlined the need to build a nuclear power plant in September 2021.

The head of state singled out among the reasons growth of the needs of the population, business in electricity, the environment, as well as the prospect of a shortage of energy in 2030 without construction of new power plants. The seriousness of the case can also be seen in the fact that many officials, deputies, political parties of Kazakhstan, who always act as leaders in the discussion of various issues, speak with caution or generally remain silent on the topic of building a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan. The approved plan of the nuclear power plant construction in Uzbekistan in 2019 on the border with South Kazakhstan also added "fuel" to the discussion of the topic.

Much attention to the topic of nuclear power plant construction in the country is determined by quite understandable reasons that cannot be ignored. Kazakhstan and its population were directly affected by the power of military atom. It can be said that memory and fear of the power of atom has been stuck in memory of population at the genetic level what cannot be overcome by statements and appeals of officials.  Neglecting and underestimating the psychological effect can negatively affect respect towards authorities and legitimacy of their decisions. If earlier the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site could be attributed to actions of Moscow, now everything is in the hands of the Kazakhstanis themselves.

It is obvious that for an objective understanding of the situation and risk assessment, there is a need to consider the topic from different angles. An economic and energy assessment of cold statistics will be insufficient without changing the attitude, transforming the mood of population towards the topic of a peaceful and safe atom.

The Internet space is represented by various studies, interviews and opinions of famous power engineers, physicists, scientists of Kazakhstan, who expressed their attitude on the topic of nuclear power plant construction. Among the most famous and authoritative comments can be named the opinion of the former head of Kazatomprom Mukhtar Dzhakishev, the former chairman of the Atomic Energy Committee Timur Zhantikin, who unanimously support the fact of construction of a nuclear power plant, but with reservations about the partner country, quality, construction technologies. Civil society activist Petr Svoik also confirms the general need to build a nuclear power plant, but admits that a deep modernization of existing coal plants can make it possible to do without a nuclear project.

In general, there are many factors that confirm possibility and benefits of building a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan. There are serious arguments that speak for the construction of a nuclear power plant. Kazakhstan holds position of the world leader in production and sale of fuel uranium, which is an essential element of the power plant's operation. In addition, it is important to remember that in the city of Aktau for more than 20 years until 1999, a nuclear reactor was successfully operated for needs of population, which was replaced by gas turbines with subsequent consequences for environment. It is impossible to forget about the issue of environment protection, air quality in many cities and regions of the country. Smog, soil pollution, "black snow", ash dumps from coal stations cannot last forever in the 21st century. Old coal technologies, worn-out power plants, the need to mine and transport coal throughout the country require a solution to the issue as soon as possible. International environmental promises of the government of Kazakhstan to the world community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are also important. However, the most serious reason for the need to build new power plants, possibly nuclear power plants, is the constant increase in electricity consumption in Kazakhstan, especially in the South of the republic, where population is growing and there is already a shortage of electricity during peak seasons. Objective facts of energy and economic needs show that a nuclear power plant is absolutely the right choice in the conditions of modern Kazakhstan.

On the other hand, there is a serious psychological and historical experience of nation. The natural sentiments of the majority of ordinary citizens, who see quality of work of officials in various spheres and sectors of Kazakhstan and consequences of corruption, are quite understandable. Today it has become common to see examples of new schools and hospitals crumbling apart and in need of major repairs; public houses that fall several years after the end of construction, or roads that fall apart even before the start of operation. Obviously, it will be difficult to explain the need to build a nuclear power plant in the south of Kazakhstan, where residents have felt explosions at military bases in Taraz and Arys in 2021. Each resident of Kazakhstan in his city, village can point on similar examples of corruption, which directly affect the mood of people and reflect confidence in the work of officials. The geopolitical factor also requires attention, since it "ties" Kazakhstan to the technologies and equipment of partner country.

It can be summed up that possible construction of a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan can be considered not only a challenge to the efficiency, "wisdom" of officials, but also to civil society, which must also take its share of responsibility. Since the subsequent decision will affect the increase in the price of electricity, the closure of coal mines, which also needs to be discussed in advance and openly. Respect for public opinion should be part of the project. The final decision, economic, technical justification, information disseminated by officials on the topic of nuclear power plants can become an "atomic" exam for the leadership of Kazakhstan. The correct choice of a partner for the construction of the plant, successful implementation of the project, economic benefits, effective management of the territory of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, employment of physics students can become factors in transformation of consciousness of the population in relation to the prospects of a peaceful atom, as well as the growth of authority of officials among the population.

Farkhad KASSENOV, A+ Analytics

The Qazaq Times