Kazakhstan’s leader asks Moon for nuke project

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Kazakhstan’s leader asks Moon for nuke project

Despite his domestic atomic energy phase-out policy, President Moon Jae-in received an invitation from the key leader of Kazakhstan to participate in the Central Asian country’s nuclear power project during their meeting on Monday.

Moon met with Nursultan Nazarbayev, the chairman of Kazakhstan’s Security Council and the country’s first president, who was in power from 1990 until last month. Although he abruptly resigned from the presidency after nearly three decades of rule, Nazarbayev is still considered the most powerful man in the country.

Moon arrived in Kazakhstan on Sunday, the final destination of his three-nation Central Asia tour. He had a summit with current President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev earlier Monday, but a more substantial discussion on bilateral relations took place during Moon’s meeting with Nazarbayev. During their meeting, Nazarbayev raised the topic of a nuclear plant project.

“I understand that you have discussed economic issues with the current president, but I want to talk about a larger project,” he told Moon. “We had a plan to build a thermal power plant, but it has changed due to environmental perspectives. We are now planning to build a nuclear plant at the site.”

“I understand very well that Korea is building a nuclear plant in the United Arab Emirates [UAE],” Nazarbayev continued.

Moon replied that Korea has demonstrated its ability to build and operate nuclear plants over the past 40 years. “The first reactor in the UAE was completed within the construction deadline, although it was built in a desert area. The UAE evaluated Korea’s nuclear plant technology highly.”

“Korea hopes for an opportunity to participate in a nuclear plant project in Kazakhstan,” Moon said.

Since he took office in May 2017, Moon has promoted a campaign to phase out nuclear energy. He said the country will halt plans to build new nuclear power plants and will not extend the lifespan of existing reactors.

Korea currently operates 23 nuclear reactors. According to the government’s roadmap, the number will increase to 28, but will be reduced to 14 in 2030. After completing the construction of the Shin Kori 6 reactor in 2024, no new reactor will be built, while the aged ones will be dismantled gradually. By 2083, Korea will complete the nuclear phase-out, while satisfying its power demands with electricity generated from other sources.

The Moon administration has faced criticism that it is hypocritical to enter nuclear plant bids overseas when Moon aims to replace nuclear power with renewable energy in Korea. Blue House officials, however, said the phase-out policy is “separate” from exporting nuclear plant technology. When Moon had a summit with the UAE leader, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in February, Moon promised that the two countries will cooperate on nuclear energy for the next 100 years.

“A nuclear plant is a project that requires cooperation in a full cycle of planning, designing, construction, operation and maintenance,” Moon told the UAE leader at the time. “The two countries should also cooperate in technology transfer and jointly participate in a third country’s bid.”

After a meeting and dinner with Nazarbayev, Moon wrapped up his eight-day trip, which also took him to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Kim Hyun-chong, the second deputy chief of the National Security Office of the Blue House, said Moon has secured strong support from the three countries for his New Northern Policy and expanded Korea’s ties to its northern neighbors.

Kim also said Moon has heightened Korean companies’ business opportunities by supporting 24 projects - worth a total of $13 billion - in the three countries. He said leaders of the Central Asian nations vowed to cooperate on various projects, particularly in the energy industry.

“The government will continue to push forward its New Northern Policy,” Kim said. “In harmony with the New Southern Policy [of strengthening ties to Southeast Asian nations], we will continue efforts to overcome our geopolitical limits and maximize growth power for the future.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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