MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Tatyana Sinitsyna)

At the end of the year, Russia has made life easier for its nuclear industry – it has built and commissioned a modern uranium-mining facility Zarechnoye in material and technical cooperation with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
Its construction in the uninhabited steppes of south Kazakhstan was completed in one year and two months. The sides have signed a contract worth one billion dollars for the period of up to 2022. The resources of the deposit amount to 20,000 tons of uranium. Russia will start receiving the “yellow cake” in January 2007.
This is Russia’s first uranium-mining joint venture (JV) on foreign territory. Kyrgyzstan has a tiny share of 0,67%, whereas Kazakhstan has agreed to the JV only on conditions of parity – the deposit is on its territory, and it has emphatically rejected the idea of becoming anyone’s raw materials appendage. To be more precise, Kazakhstan has let Russia use its uranium deposit in exchange for access to Russian high technologies.
At the inauguration ceremony Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Russian Federal Nuclear Power Agency (Rosatom) spoke about one more ambitious common goal: “We are not simply cooperating with Kazakhstan in certain industries. By pooling our potentialities, we want to lead in the world nuclear market, and there is every pre-requisite for this.” Kazakh Prime Minister Danial Akhmetov reiterated the same idea: “In a very short span of time, our nuclear partnership has produced a positive result. The commissioning of JV Zarechnoye is yet another step on the big nuclear road which lies before Russia and Kazakhstan.”
His statement shows once again that sovereign states which emerged after the Soviet Union’s disintegration are gradually overcoming their Russian empire phobia, and going over to a pragmatic policy of constructive and mutually advantageous cooperation.
JV Zarechnoye is located in the midst of the Kyzylkun Desert, and to get there we took a historic road – Genghis Khan’s mighty cavalry followed the same route eight centuries before. In the very beginning of the 15th century, another conqueror – Timur – was killed here, near the ancient town of Otyrar, when he was launching his campaign against China. The Silk Route also passed here. This silent expanse conceals not only many historical secrets, but also various natural riches.
In the 1970s, geologists discovered a uranium vein stretching to the south – to the Kazakh border with Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan at a depth of half a km. The deposit was called “Zarechnoye” (‘behind the river’ if translated from Russian) because it was located behind the Syr Darya River. Its ore was not very rich in uranium, and there was no point building a mine. The project was mothballed. All in all, geologists explored 1.69 million tones of uranium ore on Kazakh territory in the Soviet times.
But the Soviet times ended with the disintegration of the U.S.S.R and emergence of sovereign republics on its ruins. Kazakhstan was lucky to have uranium reserves. Having a full nuclear cycle, Russia was short of this raw material and had to find more sources of uranium. The owner of half of the world’s uranium-enrichment capacities, Russia could not use its technological potential in full measure.
The decision was made to develop the Elkon uranium ore deposit in Yakutia, which was previously considered unattractive for lack of infrastructure. Russia also considered joint ventures with different foreign partners. The task was becoming urgent, and eventually, the way out was found.
Modern technologies make uranium mining a profitable and environmentally safe business. There is a method of underground leaching -- sulphuric acid is poured into one hole to dissolve uranium ore at depth; then the dissolved solution is pushed upwards under pressure and undergoes several stages of chemical processing in a closed technological cycle. The final result is the yellow cake.
In 2003, Rosatom’s company Tekhstabexport received 49.33% in Zarechnoye, but the project did not go any further until presidents Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev reached agreement on this score. This is what their joint statement read on January 25, 2006: “Russia and the Republic of Kazakhstan are planning to expand cooperation in the field of global energy security, which will not only give them tangible financial benefits, but will also make their companies more competitive in the world markets.” After this, the nuclear partnership developed with surprising speed. The two governments adopted a comprehensive program of equitable partnership and made other vital decisions.
On June 15, 2006, the two sides signed a contract on Kazakh uranium supplies to Russia for a period of up to 2022, which covered Zarechnoye, among other projects. The partnership potential was reinforced by the formation of three Russian-Kazakh JVs. The goal of JV Akbastau is to develop two more uranium deposits – Yuzhnoye Zarechnoye and Budennovskoye; a joint uranium-enrichment center is under construction in Angarsk in East Siberia, and JV Atomnyye Stantsii in Almata will concentrate on low- and medium-yield innovation power plants to be based on Soviet submarine reactors.
During Zarechnoye’s inauguration, Sergei Kiriyenko and Kazakh Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources D. Mukhambetov signed a report to both presidents under the title Comprehensive Program for Development of Bilateral Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy. Tekhsnabekport Director-General Vladimir Smirnov, and Kazatomprom President Moukhtar Dzhakishev signed another major document – a memo on the fourth JV to build and operate a transportation and logistics center in Russia.
To sum up, Russia and Kazakhstan have sealed their nuclear partnership with new agreements for years ahead. Considering the future renaissance of nuclear power, this partnership will ensure for both sides long-term leadership in the world nuclear market. –0-