Uzbekistan turns to nuclear energy to power economy

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When you run a large landlocked Central Asian state rich in uranium and with big economic ambitions, what do you do? You build a nuclear power plant. That has been the thinking in Uzbekistan, Central Asia’s most populous country with about 33m people, and with the population and energy demand both forecast to grow. Tashkent has embarked on a range of reforms to open itself up to the world, improve the business climate and boost its economy since Shavkat Mirziyoyev in 2016 succeeded Islam Karimov, who had ruled the country for almost three decades, as president. The decision to build the first commercial nuclear reactor is the latest move to develop the Uzbek economy. The long-mooted project will involve Russian help that Mr Mirziyoyev has said provides “a strong impulse for co-operation between the states”. Together with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Mr Mirziyoyev launched the initiative in Tashkent in October with the start of survey works for the plant, the only nuclear project in Central Asia after Kazakhstan decommissioned its nuclear reactors in the late 1990s. Kazakhstan, the world’s leading uranium producer, has been reluctant to launch new nuclear reactors because of public opposition as memories of the ecological harm from nuclear tests at the Semipalatinsk site in Soviet times remain strong. But Uzbekistan, itself the world’s seventh largest uranium producer, sees the nuclear project as a pass into the “elite club” of nuclear powers, according to Jurabek Mirzamakhmudov, head of Uzatom state nuclear agency, which was established in July to lead national nuclear development. “We will be joining the club of countries with peaceful use of nuclear energy. That is an elite club. This is a whole new level, different type of relationships, new technologies, science and education development,” he told the Financial Times.

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