South Korea, Kazakhstan agree to expand cooperation in energy, plant, atomic power

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev celebrated the groundbreaking for a joint power plant project in the Central Asian nation Thursday, pledging to further expand cooperation in energy, plants and atomic power.

The $4 billion project to build a coal-fired power plant in the southern city of Balkhash, about 680 kilometers south of the capital Astana, is the biggest-ever joint project between the two countries since they opened diplomatic relations two decades ago.

Lee and Nazarbayev remotely watched the start of construction from Astana via a satellite link.

During the ceremony, Lee said he believes the Balkhash plant will be both high-tech and environment-friendly as top South Korean firms with advanced technologies and extensive experience in the construction and operation of power plants are participating in the project.

Lee also said the project will move relations between the two countries a step forward.

Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) and Samsung C&T each hold a 35 percent stake in the project to build a 1,320-megawatt plant that is expected to generate about 7 percent of Kazakhstan’s electricity needs. Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2018.

Ahead of the ceremony, Lee and Nazarbayev held summit talks, in which they agreed to continue to expand cooperation in energy and plants, resource development and atomic energy sectors, the presidential office said in a statement.

The two sides also shared an understanding on the need for developing all-round cooperation, and agreed to push for cooperation in science and technology, healthcare and medical sectors, as well as maritime and shipping industries, the office said.

Lee arrived in Astana on Wednesday. Kazakhstan is the final leg of Lee’s four-stop trip that already took him to Vladivostok, Russia, for an annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum; Greenland for talks on climate change and resource development; and Norway to discuss Arctic development.

Officials said Lee has developed a close friendship with Nazarbayev as he has held summit talks with the Kazakh leader every year since taking office in 2008. The two last met in March when the Kazakh leader visited Seoul to attend the Nuclear Security Summit.

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