The following article was contributed by former Korean Ambassador Kim Dae-sik of the Republic of Korea in the Republic of Kazakhstan for publication. He states: “I think Kazakhstan and Korea are good partners to cooperate win-win in nuclear power plant construction.”—Ed,
Korean Ambassador Kim Dae-sik of the Republic of Korea in the Republic of Kazakhstan
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced in his State of the Nation address on September 1, 2023, that he would put the issue of construction of the nuclear power plant to a referendum.
I worked in Kazakhstan from April 2017 to May 2020. During that period, in March 2019, I watched the first President Nursultan Nazarbayev appoint the then Speaker of the Senate Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as his successor and step down from power.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev's courageous decision was also excellent, but I had strong confidence in the qualities, abilities and integrity of the new President at the time. This was because he had a lot of experience in the Kazakh administration and politics, as well as experience and qualifications as a strategist familiar with the international situation and flow.
He held a referendum on Constitutional amendment to establish "Just and Fair Kazakhstan" on June 5, 2020. His will to reform and democratize was put into practice. It was a great achievement for the modernization and advancement of Kazakhstan's society.
Upon hearing the decision on the construction of the nuclear power plant, I have deepened my trust in President Tokayev. I think it is a very wise choice in many aspects to decide on the major social issue such as nuclear power plant construction through a national referendum.
Determining national issues by asking the will of the people, who are the owners of the country, is important for domestic integration, stability, and transparency. In addition, if a policy determined by the will of the people is pursued, it is possible to negotiate with confidence toward the other parties in external negotiations.
I carefully read this State of the Nation Address titled "Economic Course of a Just Kazakhstan." I think that the State of the Nation Address contains all the elements and directions necessary to solve the nuclear power plant construction problem from the current perspective of Kazakhstan.
Even in countries where democracy has developed, such as Korea, sometimes even when the government makes objectively correct decisions on important social issues, it often encounters strong resistance due to a lack of communication and consultation with the public or the opposition party during the policy-making process. Considering this case, President Tokayev's decision once again confirms his wisdom and firm commitment to the democratic process.
It is true that people around the world have increased their awareness of the safety of nuclear power plants after seeing the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident in Japan, but many countries, including the UK, Finland, and China, are still continuing to build nuclear power plants. This is because it is evaluated as economical and environmentally friendly energy. In the case of Kazakhstan, since it is a powerhouse in the production and export of uranium, it may be even more attractive to the construction of nuclear power plants.
The significance of the statement pertaining to Korea lies in the fact that innovation and regional context are implemented to Korea. Korea is an advanced country in almost all areas, including the construction, operation, and stability of nuclear power plants. Korea is also actively striving to become a leading country in the field of small module reactors (SMR) that Kazakhstan is considering.
If Kazakhstan decides to build nuclear power plants through a referendum later, Korea could be a good partner in many ways. Korea's strengths are already objectively evaluated through cases of nuclear power plant exports to the UAE. Nuclear power plant construction is important not only for economic and stability, but also for geopolitical considerations.
For Kazakhstan to become a geopolitically independent and central country in Central Asia, it would be strategic to cooperate with partners who do not have conflicting interests in terms of security in high-tech fields such as nuclear power plants and IT.
In that respect, I think Kazakhstan and Korea are good partners to cooperate win-win in nuclear power plant construction.
2. Kim Sang-chul, a research professor at the Central Asian Research Institute of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced on September 1 that decision on the construction of nuclear power plant will be made through a referendum in a national speech on economic development suitable for Kazakhstan, and emphasized various principles related to the construction.
In relation to the construction of such nuclear power plant, it was also mentioned that factors such as global partnerships, low-carbon emissions and sustainable development, innovation, related technology binaries, and regional significance at the Central Asian level should be considered appropriately.
The summer of 2023 is being recorded as a year in which global weather abnormalities were particularly noticeable due to global warming. Also, it is meaningful in that this is the year in which the sense of crisis that the human community must make more active efforts to stop global warming has begun to be clearly recognized not only by leaders of major countries and related experts but also by the general public. In fact, it was an opportunity for individuals to think about what efforts they should make to achieve this.
In this regard, in particular, carbon emissions are not only minimized from an environmental perspective, but also from an industrial perspective, carbon emissions are minimized not only for future industries but also for future economic development based on the present, and ultimately, a new and renewable energy system that does not emit carbon. It is becoming more clearly recognized that the transition is not a vague future, but is approaching as a situation required in reality.
In this regard, it is more clearly recognized that the transition to a new and renewable energy system that minimizes carbon emissions and ultimately does not emit carbon in future industries as well as in industrial terms, is approaching a required situation in particular.
President Tokayev has already announced a blueprint for the gradual transition and development of an eco-friendly and renewable energy system in relation to Kazakhstan's future development through the announcement of the "Carbon Neutralization Doctrine by 2060” in 2021.
Kazakhstan is a country with very special experience among countries around the world, not only in terms of the environment but also in terms of the peaceful use of nuclear weapons. Therefore, the nuclear power plant project planned by Kazakhstan has a more different meaning from the construction and operation of nuclear power plants previously pursued by other countries. In addition, the country has a comparative advantage in nuclear power generation compared to other countries in that it is the largest supplier of nuclear fuel, which is the core of nuclear power generation.
Nevertheless, nuclear power generation has the limitation of using the safety of future generations for the convenience of the current generation because it is inevitable to store it in a safe place until the related safety treatment technology is further developed. Therefore, decisions related to nuclear power generation are creating a situation in which the opinions of national members must be reflected in a wide variety and fair manner.
In this context, Kazakhstan's national decision-making method related to the construction of nuclear power is a very desirable form in that it seeks maximum consent from various members of the country. However, in this process, individuals participating in the referendum should objectively get various information related to global partnerships for cooperation related to nuclear power generation (advantages and disadvantages), low carbon emissions, and sustainable development to prevent global warming. Individual citizens' judgments should be made as objectively as possible.
In addition, during the last pandemic, regions such as southern Kazakhstan, other Central Asian countries, experienced power supply chains down, and such power shortages continue in some countries. Therefore, Kazakhstan's planned nuclear power plant construction project also has a social meaning of expanding cooperation, accelerating development, deepening and expanding exchanges in the infrastructure sector in Central Asia.
The number of countries or companies that can pursue engineering and construction related to nuclear power plants is very limited, and in particular, it is difficult to guarantee safety, minimize side effects related to environmental deterioration due to global warming, and expand stable social infrastructure related to industrial and national development. Looking at it, it is necessary to come up with a way to wisely harmonize potentially conflicting elements, and in this process, the judgments and choices of popular sovereigns can be more actively reflected and expanded in the national policy decision-making process that Kazakhstan is currently actively pursuing. It is judged that this should also be given importance in terms of ensuring the continued development of Kazakhstan in the future.
3. Jeong Minhyeon, Associate Research Fellow, Ph.D.in Economics, Russia and Eurasia Team, Center for Area Studies of Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP)
Here are my personal opinions on President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev's statement on the issue of the construction of a nuclear power plant. The author, Minhyeon Jeong, retains responsibility for all errors of omission and commission. The opinions contained herein are not necessarily endorsed by the KIEP, the author's affiliated institution.
Procedural Consideration. There is a negative public perception of nuclear power generation due to radiation damage caused by nuclear tests within Kazakhstan. Additionally, the international community's antinuclear sentiment persists. Under these circumstances, pursuing a national nuclear power project through broad public consensus is deemed procedurally justifiable.
Necessity of Nuclear Power Generation. Firstly. Kazakhstan holds the potential for nuclear power generation due to its status as the world's largest uranium producer, enabling self-sufficiency in nuclear fuel components and access to uranium isotope enrichment technology. Secondly, nuclear power generation is required to align with global decarbonization efforts and meet the demand for efficient energy production. Thirdly, ensuring a stable energy supply can facilitate stable industrial development.
Suggested Directions for ROK-KAZ Cooperation. Bilateral nuclear cooperation should encompass both material and human resources collaboratively. Urgent material cooperation includes the construction, maintenance, and operation of nuclear power plants. On the human resources front, efforts should be made to exchange knowledge through nuclear-related professional training projects between the two countries.