Nothing concrete has yet emerged from nuclear plant talks with Russia, says Uzbekistan

Nothing concrete has yet emerged from nuclear plant talks with Russia, says Uzbekistan
Talks between Uzbekistan and Russia's Rosatom for a nuclear plant began more than six years ago but they are yet to reach a decisive phase.
By Mokhi Sultanova in Tashkent May 6, 2024

Nothing concrete has yet emerged from Uzbekistan and Russia’s talks on constructing the Central Asian country’s first nuclear power plant (NPP), according to a briefing from Uzbekistan’s First Deputy Minister of Energy and director of the Agency for the DevelopUment of Nuclear Energy (UzAtom) Azim Akhmedkhadjaev.

Akhmedkhadjaev indicated that discussions remained at an initial stage, with both sides offering general remarks without specifying any definitive plans, reported on May 5.

"At this point, we are merely beginning negotiations, discussing broad themes without delving into specifics," Akhmedkhadjaev was cited as saying.

The official also reportedly stated that there were no ongoing negotiations with other countries for the construction of the NPP, although Uzbekistan had received proposals from various entities, including interested parties in the US and South Korea.

"We have received proposals, including from Hyundai. While there are no active negotiations, we will review these proposals diligently," Akhmedkhadjaev said.

The remarks from Akhmedkhadjaev come amid substantially more upbeat comments from officials of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, suggesting notable progress in the NPP negotiations.

Russian officials, via TASS, have stated that a site for the plant has already been chosen, namely near Lake Tuzkan in Jizzakh region. Engineering surveys of the site have been completed and its suitability for an NPP confirmed, the officials were also reported as saying.

Russian authorities have further said that they are currently collaborating with Uzbekistan and international experts to address technical challenges related to integrating the NPP into the Uzbek energy system. They collaboration is said to be focused on coordinating with renewable energy sources, minimising water usage for operation and optimising electricity production, with consideration of the site's climatic conditions.

Negotiations between Uzbekistan and Russia on the NPP ambition actually commenced as far back as 2018. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed. Rosatom emerged as ready to build two VVER-1200 units, each capable of producing 1.2 GW of power. The construction phase would last approximately six years.

Rosatom is also pushing proposals to build nuclear plants in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, though any installations commissioned in the latter two countries would likely be small-scale, while plans in Kazakhstan would be subject to public support being obtained in a referendum.

Despite being the world's fifth-largest uranium supplier, Uzbekistan has never moved into nuclear power production, but now aims to do so due to energy shortfall concerns. Uzbek gas production, which has never been big-league, is limited and falling.

Previous estimates of the NPP project cost have moved from $10-11bn to $13bn, prompting a desire on Uzbekistan's part to optimise expenses. It is expected that if Rosatom builds the NPP, financing would primarily come from a Russian loan.

Despite the signing of an MoU on nuclear infrastructure development with Russia, challenges yet to be overcome also include unresolved pricing issues and potential long-term complications arising from the outcome of Russia's conflict with Ukraine.