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Kazakhstan transitions to safe and green energy

by Ksenia Bondal

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A worker passes in front of the solar power station in Zhambyl Province last July. [Company photo obtained by Ksenia Bondal]

ASTANA -- A recent international award for a Kazakhstani solar energy plant underscores the country's continuing leadership in developing green sources of energy that have no value to terrorists.

The London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) May 12 named Kazakhstan's Burnoye Solar-1 Power Plant the Sustainable Project of the Year. The plant is situated in Zhambyl Province.

As the largest solar power plant in Central Asia, Burnoye Solar-1 not only provides southern Kazakhstan with energy security but is useless to terrorists who might want to attack nuclear power plants.

The EBRD teamed up with Samruk-Kazyna, the country's sovereign wealth fund, to build the plant. It came online in June 2015.

Construction took only 10 months, Nurlan Kapenov, general director of the multi-national partnership that built the plant, told Central Asia Online.

Leadership in safe energy

The plant represents part of Kazakhstan's long history of leadership on safe-energy issues.

In 1991, Kazakhstan was one of only four former Soviet republics to hold nuclear weapons. It rapidly gave up that arsenal in the name of international security.

Even though Kazakhstan is the world's largest uranium producer, it has no civilian nuclear power. Plans for such a reactor stretch far into the future, probably not before 2025, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Further cementing its reputation as a leader in nuclear non-proliferation, Kazakhstan last August signed an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to host a low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel bank in Oskemen.

The fuel bank is expected to begin operating in 2017 and to serve as a supplier of last resort if IAEA member-states cannot obtain LEU through other means.

Kazakhstan and the IAEA are hoping that the fuel bank will "dissuade countries from building enrichment facilities that might be misused to purify uranium to weapons-grade levels", the World Nuclear Association reported last August.

A win-win

Stepping up the use of solar power is a win-win in terms of the environment and security, analysts say.

Burnoye-1 will meet 70% of southern Kazakhstan's electrical needs, Almaty economist Valentin Makalkin told Central Asia Online. Kazakhstan wants to reduce its dependence on imported electricity.

"There are two more advantages," Makalkin said. "First, it's very 'green'. Solar energy minimises damage to the environment."

Kazakhstan still generates more than 80% of its electricity by burning coal, according to the EBRD.

"Second, a solar plant is safe, if you're thinking of terrorists," Makalkin said.

Makalkin cited the terrorists who killed more than 30 people in Brussels in March. They had been considering attacks on Belgian nuclear power plants.

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