Astana (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Kazakhstan is poised to become the world's leading supplier of uranium to giants like Russia, China, Japan and India. Many foreign investors are not perturbed at the lack of democracy and pluralism in the country, which they regard as a very reliable partner.
The world uranium production in 2010 increased by 6%, according to the World Nuclear Association, from 50,772 tons in 2009 to 53,663 in 2010. But it is declining in Canada and Australia (-4% and -26%), while in Kazakhstan it has increased to 17,803 tonnes in 2010 compared to 14,020 in 2009, and points to 30 thousand tonnes for 2018.
Despite the Fukushima disaster, the demand for uranium remains high, especially in Russia, China and Japan to the point that the Nomura International institution predicted that by 2015, the production will be insufficient relative to demand. In the world are building 53 new nuclear power plants and a further 500 are planned for 2030. Kazakhstan has 19% of the world's known reserves and is the world's largest producer, it supplies Japan, India, China, USA, South Korea, Canada, France and Russia.
But the country lacks technology and technical experts and is in need of foreign technology to develop production. The state KazAtomProm, third largest world producer of uranium with 8,116 tonnes in 2010, works with foreign companies. Astana, however, now wants to develop new power plants and also produce energy and sell it in neighboring countries such as China and India, which have the necessary technology and are starved of energy.
Kazakhstan is perhaps the most stable country in Central Asia. On 3 April, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who leads the country since 1989 during the Soviet era, was re-elected for another five years with 95.6% of the vote. Foreign investors have invested more than 120 billion since its independence in 1991, and have welcomed his re-election, despite the fact that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has reported numerous irregularities in the vote.
The rest of the country, although it lacks a political pluralism, has grown at an average of 8% over the past 10 years, in 2010 the gross domestic product per capita was more than 9 thousand dollars, 12 times more than in 1994. Although there remain large pockets of poverty, the average monthly salary of 527 dollars is more than 6 times higher than in nearby Tajikistan and unemployment is just 5.5% while in neighboring countries many workers have migrated abroad, to Russia and Kazakhstan itself. It 's true that inflation was 7.8% in 2010 and is expected to remain between 6 and 8% over the next five years, but in Kyrgyzstan in 2010, inflation exceeded 19%.
Astana is being courted by neighboring giants. Russia has difficulties in extracting uranium from its rich deposits, because many are in remote and inaccessible areas. So it buys it from Australia and Kazakhstan and it has agreements to carry out nuclear power stations and provide enriched uranium.
China is the largest investor in Kazakhstan, buying raw materials and energy and uranium and floods the nation with its own factories at low prices: in 2011 the two countries agreed on the supply of 55 thousand tonnes of uranium over the next 10 years.
Japan, before the April tsunami, planned to cover 41% of its electricity needs with nuclear power by 2017 and its companies are involved in the development of major Kazakh oil fields, including the Kharasan-1 and Kharasan-2 that is expected produce 160 thousand tonnes of ore in 2050.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Astana on 15 and 16 April, to discuss cooperation and trade, as the purchase of 2,100 tons of uranium from 2014 for the Indian nuclear facilities. New Delhi alone produces 3,700 megawatt hours of energy through nuclear power and wants to get to 20 thousand. Astana is vital for India, after Australia refused to sell uranium until it signs the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty against its use for military purposes.
But Astana has the issue of developing nuclear power safely and have limited technical and professional experience. If there are problems, there could be strong popular opposition, because many people are still paying the consequences of the over 450 nuclear weapons tests carried out here during the Soviet era, often with little caution.