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IAEA Team Concludes Site and External Events Design (SEED) Review in Kazakhstan

Astana, Kazakhstan

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of experts has concluded a safety review of Kazakhstan’s process for selecting the site of the country’s planned nuclear power plant.

The Kazakhstan Ministry of Energy proposed the reintroduction of nuclear power to diversify Kazakhstan’s energy mix while reducing CO2 emissions. Kazakhstan, with a population of around 19.5 million, is attempting to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.

In May 2022, Kazakhstan chose the area in the vicinity of the Ulken village as the preferred region to construct the country’s first nuclear power plant, together with the Kurchatov as a backup region, since the closure of the BN-350 fast-neutron reactor in Aktau in 1999. Kazakhstan requested the IAEA to conduct a Site and External Events Design (SEED) review mission to assess the process for making the site decision. The SEED mission took place from 2 October to 6 October 2023.

SEED missions are expert review missions which assist IAEA Member States going through different stages in the development of a nuclear power programme, carried out at the request of a country. The service offers a choice of modules on which to focus the review, such as site selection, site assessment and design of structures, systems and components, taking into consideration site specific external and internal hazards. In the case of site selection review, SEED missions do not assess the actual site chosen, but the appropriate consideration of the safety issues in the site selection process.

The five-day SEED mission was conducted at the request of the Government of Kazakhstan and hosted by the Kazakhstan Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP). Kazakhstan hosted an Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) mission in March 2023, which assessed the status of national infrastructure for the introduction of nuclear power.

The objective of the SEED review mission was to support Kazakhstan on the finalization of its Prefeasibility Study Report (PFR), on the basis of applicable IAEA safety standards. The review focused on the quality of data in the site selection report and data collection methods, the appropriateness of the site selection process, and hazard modelling, with reference to the construction of two units at a selected site.

The mission team was comprised of experts from Türkiye and the United Kingdom as well as two IAEA staff. They reviewed the PFR and conducted interviews with representatives of relevant technical agencies. The team also travelled to the proposed sites in the Ulken region and to meteorological and seismic monitoring stations in the vicinity of the site.

“The involvement of all national authorities and organisations, the regulator and the competent Ministries was welcome,” said Paolo Contri, Team Leader for the review and Head of the External Events Safety Section in the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security. “It was seen by the team as the best guarantee of success for the project with emphasis on the safety of workers, public and environment.”

On the basis of the available data, a site visit and discussions with KNPP during the mission, the IAEA team found no definitive evidence of safety related issues associated with exclusion criteria (typically fault capability, ground collapse, feasibility of emergency planning, etc.) which may suggest the unsuitability of both the proposed regions and sites within them (in Ulken and Kurchatov regions, respectively). The team suggested KNPP carry out a limited additional data collection campaign to minimize the generic risk that potential safety issues might surface at later stage.

“The decision to embark on the development of nuclear energy is a momentous one, and it underscores our nation's commitment to diversify our energy resources while upholding the highest standards of safety and environmental responsibility”, said Gumar Sergazin, Director of the Department of Atomic Energy and Industry. “I am confident that the outcomes of this SEED will not only contribute to the safety and sustainability of our nuclear energy program but will also further strengthen the bonds of cooperation and trust among all stakeholders involved.”

The final mission report will be delivered to the Government of Kazakhstan within three months.

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