Nuclear energy in Africa

Many parts of sub-saharan Africa have limited access to power. An estimated 57% of the sub-saharan African population does not have access to electricity. As such, some African countries, such as Kenya, are considering nuclear power as a means of meeting the increasing demand for power. Opinion is deeply divided on whether Africa is ready for, and should invest in, nuclear energy. The main concerns on nuclear power revolve around safety, massive capital costs and environmental impacts.

Nuclear power generation is the harnessing of the energy created by a nuclear reaction. To produce electricity an energy source is needed to drive the huge turbines in a power station. In a nuclear power station, that energy comes from the splitting of atoms of uranium – a process known as fission. According to a study by US-based Centre for Global Development (CGD), there are many African countries that could benefit from including nuclear energy into their power mix. These countries include Kenya, Tanzania Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, Sudan, Niger, Uganda and Namibia. Currently, South Africa is the only African country with an operating nuclear power plant, which operates at a capacity of 1 800 MW.

“In the short term, we expect to see more progress on regulatory and infrastructure milestones. In the longer term, we expect one to five countries in Africa to begin commercial nuclear programmes, most with the help of a foreign reactor vendor,” states the study, titled ‘Atoms for Africa: Is There a Future for Civil Nuclear Energy in Sub-Saharan Africa?’

There are stringent guidelines that these countries must meet before they able to begin developing nuclear power plants. There are 19 specifications, some of which are watertight regulatory framework, guarantees on radiation protection, a strong electricity grid, security guarantees, radioactive waste management and well-trained personnel. Countries wishing to develop nuclear power also need to:

  • Have broad political and popular support
  • Have enough money or a vendor to fund the plant as it will cost hundreds of millions to construct a power plant
  • Have a grid capacity around ten times the capacity of its planned nuclear power plant

Many African countries are going ahead with developing nuclear power. A third of the almost 30 countries currently considering nuclear power are in Africa. Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan have already engaged with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to assess their readiness to embark on a nuclear programme. Algeria, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia are also mulling the possibility of nuclear power. Russia, South Korea and China are the primary vendors determined to assist African countries build nuclear plants.

Kenya is already on route to developing their own nuclear power plant. This plant will only be used once all other forms of energy in Kenya have been exhausted. Rwanda has signed an agreement with Russia to protect their nuclear energy usage. The agreement, signed between Russian State-owned nuclear group Rosatom and the Ministry of Infrastructure of Rwanda, covers cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. This agreement sets out the terms for cooperation between the countries. Russia will be developing nuclear infrastructure in Rwanda.

“Many, many people ask the question: Why nuclear?” says Nii Allotey, director of the Nuclear Power Institute at the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission. “To me, it’s not about nuclear being an option. It is about energy being an option. Do you, as a country, need energy? And the simple answer is yes. So if you need energy, you need to find cost-effective electricity that is clean and reliable.”

“With a rapidly expanding population and plans to grow our economies, we need to work within these constraints,” he adds. “We are a continent that is in dire need of energy.”

Advantages of nuclear energy

  • High efficiency – there is enough supply of uranium, the key element of nuclear energy, to last for 70 to 80 years. Furthermore, these plants are able to work without interruption for at least a year so long as no maintenance work is required.
  • Environmentally-friendly – Nuclear energy does not release carbon dioxide and is cleaner. Moreover, it has lower greenhouse emissions
  • Low-maintenance – plants require little maintenance once in operation.

Disadvantages of nuclear energy

  • Harmful – the nuclear reactors create a health and safety issue for the people living near the vicinity in line.
  • Expensive – these plants are incredibly expensive to build. An estimated $2 billion dollars is needed to build a 1,000-megawatt power plant and time table can take up to five years.
  • Nuclear waste disposal issues – the little waste that is produced is incredibly difficult and expensive to dispose of. It takes years to expose of radioactive waste. There is actually a lack of long-term waste disposal facilities.
  • Leak potential – Leaks are incredibly dangerous. The radioactive byproduct of nuclear energy is toxic and can cause burns, cancer, blood diseases and bone decay. A leak could thus be catastrophic. Chernobyl and Fukushima are two key examples of when nuclear power goes wrong.
  • Nuclear war – there is a risk that nuclear weapons could also eventually be made. The world is still affected by the bombs dropped in Japan during World War II. The threat of future nuclear war is one very real fear.

What are your opinions on nuclear energy in Africa? Let us know in the comments below!

[Source: Engineering Weekly –]

[Source: Future of Working-]

[Source: Africa Renewal –]