By Albert Mbaka, an energy researcher at the Centre for International and Security Affairs
In Western Europe, nuclear power accounts for almost 27% of total electricity. In Northern Europe, it’s about 18% and in Africa 2.4%. Currently, there are approximately 400 nuclear power reactors operating in almost 30 different countries worldwide. This demonstrates the rapid growth and success of the technology.
There is a strong conviction that nuclear energy has the capacity to provide energy access to a greater number of Africa’s population. Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda have expressed interest in setting up nuclear power infrastructure; and South Africa has committed to adding nuclear capacity at a “pace and scale” that it can afford.
Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia have already signed agreements with international nuclear power developers offering to deploy nuclear power: providing the technology, training human resources and setting up regulatory bodies.
Rosatom, the Russian state corporation responsible for the military and civil use of nuclear energy, is building a $29 billion reactor in Egypt and has concluded agreements with Uganda, Ghana and others. Nigeria has a deal with Rosatom for the construction of a nuclear reactor, and less ambitious agreements of cooperation have been signed with Sudan, Ethiopia and the Republic of the Congo.
International groups are exporting light-water technology, which is generally considered among the safest; however, such reactors typically generate more than 1,000MW and very few countries in sub-Saharan Africa have the capacity to distribute that amount of power.
New nuclear reactor technologies
Advanced nuclear reactor technology such as small modular reactors (SMRs) would really help in solving this particular problem. Several companies are seeking to produce SMRs that have a capacity of 300MW. Due to their small size and lower capital cost, they are easily scalable to meet growing demand as the grid permits. Floating and stationary offshore nuclear plants mounted on a ship have also been developed. These nuclear plants have easier access to cooling water and their location away from land increases the safety perception.
China’s General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) has also designed the Generation III HPR 1000 (Hualong One). China plans to sell the reactor to the UK and newcomer countries. South Korea’s Korea Electric Power Cooperation has designed the APR-1400 pressurised reactor, which they have installed in the UAE. They plan to export about 80 reactors by 2030.
Prof Abdulrazak, Director for the Africa Division at the IAEA Department of Technical Cooperation, indicated that nuclear energy is able to mitigate climate change and has begun to gain popularity among developing countries, which also see it as a possible route to meet their industrialisation plans. Establishment of nuclear power infrastructure is a long-term commitment, taking about 10-15 years. During this process, higher standards of safety and security, and safeguards must be supplied.
Joseph Njoroge, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Energy, underscored that Kenya is focused on becoming a middle-income country. This will require a reliable and sustainable, competitively priced clean energy. As such, the country has made commendable steps in its regulatory process, advancing along the three phases laid out in the IAEA framework milestones in the development of a national infrastructure for nuclear power. ESI