French President Emmanuel Macron agreed to a joint declaration with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan to promote trade and cooperation in nuclear energy and strategic minerals during Macron’s visit to the Central Asian nation last Wednesday.

Kazatomprom, the largest uranium producer in the world, based in Kazakhstan, and Framatome, a French nuclear reactor constructor, also signed an agreement on cooperation in the nuclear fuel cycle.

Tokayev said: “Kazakhstan is the world’s top uranium producer, contributing over a quarter of nuclear fuel consumed in Europe. With nuclear power comprising 63% of France’s energy sector, there is vast potential for further cooperation.”

France is one of Kazakhstan’s largest trading partners and has invested $18.7bn (€17.51bn) in the Kazakh economy over the past 15 years.

“Today we are implementing important projects in the energy, nuclear industry, mining, chemical industry, machinery, construction, aerospace and pharmaceuticals. The successful operation of more than 170 French companies in our country proves this fact,” he added.

Kazakhstan, already the largest uranium-producing nation in the world, accounting for 42% of world production, may develop its own nuclear power industry in the near future. At the beginning of September, it was decided that the nation will hold a referendum soon on whether to build its first nuclear power plant.

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By GlobalData

Roman Vassilenko, Deputy Foreign Minister, said: “We have the technology, we have the resources and we have the will to develop nuclear power generation, provided that the people of Kazakhstan vote in favour of such a move in the national referendum.”

The precise date for the referendum will be announced “in due course”. French energy giant EDF is one of four nuclear reactor vendors shortlisted to supply Kazakhstan’s first nuclear power plant.

Partnership on nuclear is part of a wider strategy to enhance political ties between the two nations. Macron said: “The vigour (of our partnership) demonstrates the good strategic directions that have been taken, but (also) the need to complete and accelerate them, which is the whole point of the visit.”

Despite alignment with France, Kazakhstan is still keen to maintain ties with Russia. A source close to the issue told Euractiv that the “Kazakhs cannot risk being sanctioned by the EU, their main trading partner, by joining forces with Russia. On the other hand, aligning only with an EU country like France would send a very unpleasant signal to Moscow.”