French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in uranium-rich Kazakhstan on Wednesday on the first leg of a trip to Central Asia, a region long regarded as Russia’s backyard that has drawn fresh Western attention since the war in Ukraine began. His main aim: securing raw materials and possibly a lucrative contract for a nuclear power plant. But many in Kazakhstan are not happy, as reported by Jan van der Made.
Oil-rich Kazakhstan has already emerged as a replacement supplier of crude to European nations turning off Russian supply and an important link in the new China-Europe trade route bypassing Russia.
At a meeting with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Macron complimented Astana for refusing to side with Moscow on Ukraine and said the two countries planned to sign significant business deals.
“We will be able to make progress on important international matters, underscore our commitment to the United Nations charter and principles such as territorial integrity and national sovereignty,” he said through an interpreter.
But Kazakhstan mainly attracted Macron’s attention because of its vast uranium resources.
According to a study by the World Nuclear Association (WNA,) published in August this year, Kazakhstan possesses 12 percent of the world’s uranium resources and in 2021 produced about 21,800 tons. In 2009 it became the world’s leading uranium producer, with almost 28 percent of world production. In 2019, the country produced a staggering 43 percent of the world’s uranium.
Hence the drive for alternatives.