Nuclear Power and Secure Energy Transitions: From Today's Challenges to Tomorrow's Clean Energy Systems

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Renewable energy

In 2019, the total installed capacity of small hydro was 224.6 MW and 1 105.3 million kWh of electricity was generated (

According to KOREM’s report for 2018, electricity generation from solar power plants (SPPs) was 137.9 million kWh in 2018, which is 53.6% higher than the 89.9 million kWh in 2017 ( Solar generation capacity is provided by the Kapshagay SPP (2 MW) in the Almaty Region; Burnoye Solar-1 and Otar in the Zhambyl Region; SKZ‑U LLP SPP in the Kyzylorda Region; and the Ochistnoy and Akbay SPPs of Aksu‑Energo LLP in the South Kazakhstan Region (

Kazakhstan’s climatic conditions are favourable for wind power generation: 50% of Kazakhstan has average wind speeds of 4 metres per second (m/sec) at a height of 30 m. In 2018, generation from wind power plants was 400.5 million kWh, which was an 18.3% increase from 2017 ( The largest wind power plants (Yereimentau-1 [45 MW] and Korday [19.6 MW]) are situated in the Akmola and Zhambyl regions. Small wind power plants (3.5 MW and 2 MW) began operating in the North Kazakhstan Region in 2013 ( 

Kazakhstan possesses considerable mid- and low-temperature thermal water resources. Total thermal water resources are estimated at 520 megawatts thermal (MWth) (free-flow operation) or 4 300 MWth (pumped). Proven resources from the Cretaceous formations in southern and south-west Kazakhstan (Panfilov field) for electricity production are 12 MWth. The main thermal water areas are located near the cities of Shymkent, Almaty and Kyzylorda, and on the Caspian Sea coast (

Only 4% of Kazakhstan’s overall territory (over 10 million hectares) is occupied by forests, with 4.7 million ha covered with saxaul (Haloxylon). The energy potential of timber waste is more than 200 kilotonnes of oil equivalent (ktoe), that of animal waste is 52 ktoe, and electricity generation potential from agricultural residue is estimated at 87 gigawatt hours (GWh) per year ( In addition, the Biokhim wheat-based ethanol plant in northern Kazakhstan was to be brought back into operation in 2020 (

There is potential for biomass development in large farms and agricultural enterprises with animal husbandry or crop cultivation. The main waste residues in such farms include manure, crop residues and slaughtering residues. Kazakhstan has the following potential estimated volumes of available waste residues: 1.5 Mt of manure (dry), 0.1 Mt of slaughtering residues (wet), and5.1 Mt of crop residues (dry) ( In cities, municipal solid waste separation could produce biological waste for energy use, with an available 5.4 Mt of waste, of which the amount of bio waste is 2.0 Mt (37%) (

According to the Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources, of all the industrial waste produced in 2016, 26.8% was processed and utilised; 30.9% was used in 2017 and 32.2% in 2018. The share of municipal solid waste (MSW) recycled and used amounted to 11.5% in 2018, 9% in 2017 and 2.6% in 2016


Kazakhstan produces 5-6 Mt of MSW annually; it is sorted and processed at factories in Nur‑Sultan, Shymkent and Zhanaozen, as well as by various SMEs. In fact, more than 130 enterprises process recycled materials in the country, producing more than 20 types of products: plastic, metal, wood, glass, paper, crumb rubber and rubber products; biogas; fertilisers; and pyrolysis fuel. Kazakhstan had 3 521 landfills at the end of 2018, of which only 17.6% were officially legal. Landfills negatively affect the environment, particularly the quality of groundwater, soil cover and atmospheric air, and are a source of infection, rodents, and disease vectors. In 2019, authorities banned the disposal of plastic, paper and glass at landfills without prior sorting (

Construction of the GreenRecycle LLP waste sorting complex in Almaty was completed in 2018. The plant has a capacity of 550 kt, with production of 50 kt of secondary raw materials planned (31% polyethylene terephthalate [PET], 24% cardboard, 8% cellophane, 29% glass, 7% plastic and 7% metal) ( The Green Economy Concept aims to have 40% of all waste recycled by 2030 and 50% by 2050 ( Accessed 21.02.2017).

A programme of expanded producer and importer liability took effect 1 January 2016, requiring importers and goods manufacturers to pay recycling fees. An approved list of products (goods) is subject to extended producer (importer) obligations, and the ROP Operator LLP oversees the recycling programme, collecting payments and administering collected funds. The ROP Operator also launched a compensation programme for disposing of old vehicles ( and

The separate collection of solid waste is gradually being introduced in Kazakhstan. With the financial support of the ROP Operator, 12 196 containers for separate collection were installed in 10 regions and in the city of Nur‑Sultan; 147 collection points were introduced in 8 regions; and 28 specialised vehicles were purchased in 2018‑19. In 11 regions, 2 321 containers for mercury-containing lamps and chemical power sources were installed ( In 2017, a plant for the utilisation of obsolete cars was launched in the Karaganda region; it has accepted 121 477 vehicles for recycling and processed 102 000 old cars (

Energy efficiency

In terms of energy intensity of GDP (the energy intensity of primary energy in megajoules [MJ] per 2011 USD at purchasing power parity [PPP] of GDP), Kazakhstan was 31st in the world in 2015 according to the World Bank ( because of its severe continental climate, long and cold winters, the prevalence of energy-intensive sectors in its economy, its large territory and extensive transport infrastructure (oil and gas pipelines, electricity transmission lines and water ducts). Due to the availability of affordable coal and relatively low regulated energy tariffs (for heat, gas and electricity), the attractiveness of investing in energy-saving projects remains low (

Some progress has been made, however, with the Law on Energy Conservation and Energy Efficiency, which introduced:

  • A procedure for conducting energy audits to assess energy efficiency and to implement energy supply management systems at major industrial enterprises and other buildings.
  • Facilities for training energy auditors and managers as well as for conducting research activities.
  • Energy service contracts.
  • A ban on incandescent lighting fixtures and on sales of electrical products without energy efficiency grade indication.
  • Differentiated payments for heat consumption depending on whether heat metering is installed (
  • Compliance with energy consumption standards and normative capacity coefficient values in power grid networks.
  • Reviews of new construction projects for energy efficiency and energy savings (

There is significant potential for energy efficiency in buildings in Kazakhstan. Average residential energy consumption (270 kWh/m²) exceeds that of the European Union (100 kWh/m² to 120 kWh/m²) and Russia (210 kWh/m²). For new residential construction, the Law on Energy Saving and Energy Efficiency specifies the use of modern energy-saving materials and the installation of automated heating systems and utility metering devices. For existing residential structures, the Law requires that such materials, heating systems and devices be installed during capital repairs or reconstruction (

Fuel switching

Under the Green Economy Concept, investments are needed for the creation of gas infrastructure in the North, East and South regions to enable co‑generation plants to switch from coal to gas in all large cities. This would result in lower local emissions and better air quality and would ensure flexible backup capacity for intermittent renewable energy sources. Electricity generated by coal plants would remain at the current level until 2030, but gas in power generation would double to 8 bcm/y by 2030, from 4 bcm/y in 2012 (

In 2014, the government approved a General Scheme for 2015‑30 to delineate the country’s access to gas. A realistic scenario involves expanding distribution pipelines in regions that already have access to gas and constructing new branch pipelines to regions located near main pipelines (in western and southern Kazakhstan). More than 3 million citizens have been provided with piped gas in the past seven years (as of 2020), extending gas access to more than 9 million residents (a rise from 30% in 2013 to 51% in 2019) (

Since 2016, the Beineu-Bozoi-Shymkent pipeline has been moving gas from the country’s western gas production regions to southern areas. Construction of the Saryarka gas pipeline was started in November 2018 to provide gas to Nur-Sultan as well as to central and northern Kazakhstan by 2023. In October 2019 the first stage of construction from Kyzylorda to Nur-Sultan was completed ( In only a short time, 1 061.3 km of pipeline, five powerful automated gas distribution stations and a gas measuring station had been built ( The pipeline’s capacity of 2.2 bcm per year is expected to provide gas to 171 settlements and 2.7 million people in the Karaganda and Akmola regions.

Also in 2016, Gazprom Export and LLP Global Gas Regazification, part of the Global Gas Group Company, signed the first-ever contract to supply small-tonnage LNG by road from Russia to Kazakhstan. In 2017, 320 kt of LNG was delivered from Yeaketerinburg to Nur-Sultan. In February 2017, the first LNG regasification complex (Turan) was launched in Nur-Sultan within the framework of the Astana LNG 2020 project, with the first consumer being Nazarbayev University ( Gazprom Transgaz Yekaterinburg LLC delivered 7.7 kt of LNG to Kazakhstan in 2018 and more than 9 kt in 2019. Thus, in 2019 the company increased Kazakhstan’s LNG supplies by 16.9% (

Environmental protection

Kazakhstan suffers from land degradation, desertification and water scarcity as a result of past military nuclear testing programmes and industrial and mining activities. As similar conditions prevail throughout the Central Asia region, in 2010 Kazakhstan established the Green Bridge Partnership Programme for sustainable development within the region and beyond. In Central Asia, the programme addresses issues related to energy and water linkages.

In addition, Kazakhstan has ratified more than 20 international environmental treaties. They provide the basis for its national environmental regulatory framework, which includes national laws, presidential decrees and government resolutions.

The Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources administers environmental protection in Kazakhstan, and the 2007 Environmental Code is the country’s basic legislative framework for any activity requiring environmental protection ( An environmental permit is required for any emissions of pollutants into the environment, for wastewater discharges and waste disposal in the environment, and for open storage of sulphur. State authorities apply fines for environmental offences, or suspend or cancel the environmental permit (

However, some important environmental concerns are the absence of coal-fired power plant ash and slag waste management systems; inadequate ash capture in coal-fired power station stacks; and air and water pollution at mineral resource extraction and processing sites ( Current air pollutant emissions standards in Kazakhstan fall well behind those of the European Union, and most of Kazakhstan’s cities suffer from poor air quality ( Extremely high risks of developing the chronic effects of heavy-metal exposure were detected in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Shymkent, Almaty, Taraz and Balkhash. According to the Green Economy Concept, more stringent standards for emissions of particulate matter, sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) have to be adopted (

Kazakhstan’s current emissions standards are less stringent than those of OECD countries and China. Permissible emissions of solid particles by coal-fired power plants in Kazakhstan are several times above EU limits. Kazenergy (2019) therefore stresses the introduction of high-performance double-blow electrostatic precipitators, combustion optimisation systems and sulphur oxide control systems to reduce emissions in priority areas (

Climate change

Kazakhstan submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in September 2015, with a pledge to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 15‑25% from the 1990 level by 31 December 2030. It ratified the Paris Agreement in December 2016, and the target of 15% including emissions from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) is unconditional, while the 25% target (also including LULUCF) is contingent on access to additional international investments, low-carbon technology transfer mechanisms, green climate funds and flexible mechanisms for countries with economies in transition. The unconditional target is equivalent to a 13% increase in emissions in 2020 compared with 2012, and 1% increases in 2025 and 2030 (

The latest national inventory indicates that Kazakhstan’s GHG emissions (excluding LULUCF) in 2017 were 353.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2-eq), 8.5% lower than in base year 1990; GHG emissions from the energy sector accounted for 82% of total emissions. GHG emissions from fuel combustion in Kazakhstan can be clearly divided into two periods: a gradual decrease from 1990 to early 1999, and slower growth with small fluctuations since 2000 (

Kazakhstan approved its emissions trading scheme (ETS) in 2011. In Phase I (2013), allowance surrender obligations were imposed on 178 companies and the cap was set at 147 MtCO2 (plus a reserve of 20.6 MtCO2), equivalent to 2010 levels. Phase II (2014‑15) covered 166 companies and the cap was set at 155.4 MtCO2 for 2014 and 153 MtCO2 for 2015 – i.e. reduction targets of 0% in 2014 and 1.5% in 2015 compared with the average CO2 emissions of capped entities in 2011-12. The Phase III (2016‑20) cap is set at 746.5 MtCO2 (plus a reserve of 21.9 MtCO2) and 140 companies are affected.

The first two phases included free allowances, with the possibility of introducing auctioning in Phase III. The allocation of allowances was based on an historical approach and in 2016 it was proposed that allowances be distributed based on benchmarking. In early 2016, emissions trading was suspended until 2018 to adjust and improve the distribution system of quotas. In April 2018 Vice-Minister of Energy Mr Zhaksaliyev announced that 76 enterprises had chosen the historical approach and 149 had chosen benchmarking. The historical method for allocating quotas is based on the average value of emissions for the previous time period, while benchmarking compares the intensity of emissions relative to the output. The national quota allocation plan adopted in January 2018 sets a total emissions cap for 129 companies for 2018-20 ( Kazenergy (2019) claims that benchmarks are designed to give more free allowances to coal-fired than gas-fired plants because the emissions intensity of coal-based electricity was 0.985 tCO2/MWh in 2018, while it was only 0.621 tCO2/MWh for electricity generated from other fuels (fuel oil and natural gas). Such a policy therefore reduces the incentive to switch from coal to gas for power generation (

Recent modelling indicates that Kazakhstan’s -15% INDC target is rather ambitious and would require the expedited construction of pipelines to regions lacking access to gas. The success of the ETS and the measures prescribed by Green Economy Concept are not sufficient to reach this goal, so additional efforts are needed in the non-ETS transport, agriculture, waste and residential sectors ( 

In 2015, the National Agency for Technological Development (NATD) distributed KZT 1.6 billion (almost USD 100 million at the 2015 exchange rate) to support 51 projects. The government’s priorities include the development of: information and communications technology (ICT) for the telecommunications sector; renewable energy resources; new materials; pharmaceutical products; and, last but not least, new oil and gas sector technologies and innovations (

Financial support for development in science and research in Kazakhstan comes mainly from the national budget through several types of funding: basic; programme-targeted; and grants. In 2018, domestic research and development (R&D) expenses amounted to KZT 72.2 billion, or 0.12% of Kazakhstan’s GDP. This share has been in continuous decline for the past five years ( However, at a government meeting chaired by Prime Minister Askar Mamin in December 2019, it was decided that education and science expenditures should increase to 7% of Kazakhstan's GDP by 2025 (

The Technology Commercialization Project, an initiative of the World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice and the Government of Kazakhstan, provided grants to scientists between 2008 and 2015. The project initiated 65 new science-based start-ups in agriculture, gas, oil, medicine and other areas (

Also in co-operation with the World Bank, since 2014 the Ministry of Education and Science has been implementing the Fostering Productive Innovation Project. The project has five components: developing a knowledge base for innovation; forming innovation consortiums; consolidating the technology commercialisation cycle; strengthening co-ordination of the national innovation system to enhance the capacity of existing institutional structures; and implementing support projects (

In 2014, the government introduced a special Law on the Innovation Cluster Innovative Technologies Park to define the special status of the Innovative Technologies Park (ITP) free economic zone, and the peculiarities of attracting foreign labour by the autonomous cluster fund of the ITP. It also aims to provide a legislative framework for the free economic zone’s individual management system (