Q: President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has signed a decree to develop nuclear power in Uzbekistan and created UzAtom, the Uzbek Agency for Nuclear Energy. What is the motivation behind this decision?
A: There are two primary motivations. First, dealing with the effects of economic growth; and second, reducing our country's reliance on fossil fuels. In November 2018 our parliament ratified the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, having signed the accord in April 2017.
Many will be surprised that Uzbekistan is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The IMF forecasts that Uzbekistan’s economy will grow at 5% to 6% a year through to 2023. This economic growth will be accompanied by an increase in population.
Current projections indicate that, in order to match these trends and consumer demand, we will need to double electricity output by 2030. While we could easily do this by burning our ample supplies of natural gas, a different course has been chosen, namely the construction of central Asia’s first nuclear power station in three decades.
Q: What else can you tell us about UzAtom and its mandate?
A: UzAtom was founded in July 2018. We are responsible for preparing and implementing coordinated national policies in the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Our remit includes developing policy and law; attracting investment and financing; technology and safety; the execution of contracts for designing and building the country’s new nuclear facilities; ensuring regulatory best practice in collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA]; and ensuring the non-proliferation of nuclear and radioactive materials in Uzbekistan.
Q: How will the nuclear industry fit into Uzbekistan’s broader energy portfolio and strategy?
A: Uzbekistan is too reliant on natural gas, which represents about 85% of our power output. Investing in nuclear will help to change that. We expect that by 2030 about 15% of Uzbekistan’s energy generation will come from nuclear sources.
As a ‘clean’ energy source, nuclear will help Uzbekistan reach its target of generating 20% of the country’s electricity from renewable energy sources by 2032. It is expected that nuclear energy in Uzbekistan will materially reduce emissions. On an annual basis, there will be a reduction of 14 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and 36,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxides.
The proposed new power plant in Uzbekistan will also help to save 3.5 billion cubic metres of natural gas and allow our country to use it for other purposes, such as petrochemicals production or export. This, according to current predictions, could generate about $550m to $600m in additional annual revenue. There is scope for widespread regional co-operation too. The central Asian electricity loop is being reconnected and Uzbekistan has a significant role to play in assisting its neighbours.
Q: How will nuclear plants be financed?
A: UzAtom is set to start discussions on engineering, procurement and construction [EPC] contracts in January 2019. EPC contracts will be jointly funded by the Uzbekistan government and soft loans from the Russian government. Negotiations in the first quarter of 2019 will determine the final details, with a financial agreement expected by the fourth quarter 2019. Our priority is to secure the best financial deal for Uzbekistan.
Q: Are there any concerns from a geopolitical or security standpoint about nuclear development?
A: We are fully cognisant of the responsibilities we have in terms of the non-proliferation of nuclear materials and technologies and radioactive materials in Uzbekistan. We have been an active and committed member of the IAEA since 1994, and it has committed to assisting us in the development and creation of our domestic regulator and wider regulatory framework.
The co-operation in responsible treatment of radioactive waste was specifically included in the intergovernmental agreement between Uzbekistan and Russia for co-operation and construction of this nuclear power plant, in September 2018.
UzAtom is focused on using technology geared towards recycling radioactive waste and the radioactive waste storage strategy will be in accordance with all international laws and safety requirements.