Home MOREOPINION Does Uzbekistan need a nuclear power plant today? asks Alan P. Reid

Does Uzbekistan need a nuclear power plant today? asks Alan P. Reid

by Alan Reid
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In connection with the threat of a catastrophe at the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky called on the EU to work on the next package of sanctions, in which to impose restrictions against the Russian company Rosatom.

According to the “Evropeyskaya pravda”, he said this at a press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Zelensky warned about the preparation by the Russian side of a potential disaster scenario at the largest nuclear power plant in Europe – the Zaporozhye NPP. According to him, in this regard, world leaders need to put pressure on Russia to prevent radiation incidents at the NPP.

“It is already necessary to start work on the 12th package of sanctions; Pedro [Sanchez] and I started talking about these sanctions today,” Zelensky said.

Meanwhile, Uzbekistan, one of the largest Central Asian states, intends to cooperate with Rosatom in the construction of a nuclear reactor on its territory.

Experts believe that such cooperation may be unprofitable for Tashkent. 

Considering that any cooperation with Rosatom may include Uzbekistan under the sanctions of the European Union, Great Britain and the United States. 

As an example, the Turkish nuclear power plant in Akkuyu, which is being built by Rosatom, is given. Now Turkey is threatened with real sanctions, given that Russian banks involved in financing the project have been banned.

The sanctions imposed by the US Treasury Department and the State Department jointly with the UK have already affected legal entities and individuals in more than 20 countries and jurisdictions and may have significant consequences for those who do business with the Russian energy sector.

“The State Department today imposes sanctions on individuals and legal entities involved in: evading sanctions and circumventing them; maintaining Russia’s ability to wage its aggressive war; and supporting Russia’s future sources of energy revenue,” the US State Department announced on May 19, 2023

In addition to the threats of sanctions, Uzbekistan faces serious environmental risks for the whole of Central Asia.

Firstly, a nuclear reactor constantly needs large sources of water for cooling. Global climate changes in the form of droughts, reduced rainfall and uneven water use lead to shallowing of rivers in Central Asia. Therefore, the construction of the first nuclear reactor in Uzbekistan will complicate the situation in terms of the ecology of the region.

Secondly, there are concerns about the cooling systems associated with the VVER-1200, and such concerns were expressed when modeling accidents: “In the processes of generating accidents, the technical parameters of the VVER-1200 reactor and local meteorological data were used. A large amount of radioactivity was released mainly due to inert gas, iodine and other radionuclides. Radiological doses such as TEDE, TEDED, thyroid CDE, inhaled CEDE, ground gloss, etc. were evaluated. It was found that radioactivity and doses in emergency cases were significantly higher than under normal conditions.”

During the same calculations, maximum dose values were obtained at a distance of up to 25 miles (40.2 km) from a nuclear power plant, and the validity period of the source for radioactive materials released into the atmosphere was calculated.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also stressed the need for Uzbekistan to join international legal instruments to which it is not yet a party, such as the Convention on Nuclear Safety, the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage and Its Consequences. Protocol.

The IAEA also stated that the Government should ensure a consistent and complete national legal framework to ensure nuclear safety by consolidating and strengthening legislation. Uzbekistan also needs to provide sufficient human and financial resources for the nuclear regulatory authority.

Although the country has made significant progress in the development of the nuclear power plant project, work has yet to be completed on project-related research, environmental assessment procedures, stakeholder engagement activities and construction management capabilities.

In addition, the threat of terrorism remains relevant in Central Asia. The unstable situation on the southern borders of Uzbekistan, where the Taliban is facing radical extremists from the Islamic State organization, may put a nuclear reactor as a potential target for terrorists. 

However, the Director of Capital Investments, State Construction Supervision and State Expertise of Rosatom State Corporation confirmed his plans in Uzbekistan.

“As soon as our partners from Uzbekistan sign a contract for the construction of the first nuclear power plant, Rosatom is ready to promptly launch the construction of the project. We expect this to happen in the near future,” Sakharov said in June 2023.

Therefore, experts are now raising the question of the expediency of Uzbekistan’s development of nuclear energy. 

“Green energy” is gaining momentum all over the world. In this regard, Uzbekistan has enormous potential in the field of solar energy and wind energy. And now it may make sense for Tashkent to pay attention to foreign investors in the development of “green energy” for the benefit of its citizens.

Image: VVER-440 reactor hall at Mochovce Nuclear Power Plant, IAEA via Wikipedia.

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