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Nuclear power for Uganda?

25 May 2010 – According to a report published in a Kenyan newspaper, Uganda could see its first nuclear power station in use by 2018.  This as the country drifts farther from donor influence in an effort to assert more control over strategic sectors of its economy.

However, there are indications that there is still a long way to go to get acceptance of the technology over the priority placed on hydro generation.  The article said that “emerging thinking at the highest levels in the Ugandan government lays the blame for the country’s current energy woes on flawed policies that were heavily influenced by a World Bank philosophy that led to piecemeal investment in the energy sector.”

"There has been an internal shift in the government approach to energy policy, in the direction of more independence from our friends in Bretton Woods," a source at the National Planning Authority (NPA) is quoted as saying.

"This is because there is a realisation that energy is a catalyst for development, and the conservative approach dictated by some of our development partners in the past, has not quite worked for the country," he added.

"Even though we have a hydro potential in excess of 4,000MW along the river Nile, we cannot avoid nuclear energy because there are environmental limits to how much hydro you can get out of the river," the NPA source observed.

Although Uganda has some 380MW of installed capacity hydro power is being severely affected by changing weather patterns and is vulnerable to drought.

Energy Minister Hillary Onek said he was unaware of a push for nuclear energy, but admitted that the 2018 date with nuclear might be too ambitious.

"I am hearing about this for the first time but there is nothing strange about nuclear energy. Although they come with stringent environmental demands, those technologies are available off the shelf and you don’t have to do much research, you can buy them the same way we buy generators," Mr Onek said, adding: "If that is what the planners say, however, then it is a national programme and we shall work towards achieving it. That is like tasking us as implementers."

Mr Onek added that although nuclear is notionally in Uganda’s and everybody else’s long term focus, for now hydro resources can supply in excess of 4,000 megawatts and alternatives would only be sought if demand went beyond that that capacity.

"We have not worked out the details of the nuclear option because our focus has been on exhausting alternatives such as hydro, solar and thermal now that we have oil," he added.