Nuclear energy and Africa
“Africa is hungry for energy, and nuclear power could be part of the answer for an increasing number of countries,” says Mikhail Chudakov, deputy director general and head of the Department of Nuclear Energy at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an international organisation that promotes the peaceful use of nuclear technology.
While nuclear energy is widely unexplored on the continent with South Africa remaining the only country with a commercialised nuclear power plant.
Egypt is home to one of the oldest nuclear power programmes. Launched in 1954, the programme is responsible for the 4.8 GW El Dabaa nuclear power plant, currently in the construction phase. The project will be developed by, Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom) – the biggest nuclear power player in Africa having concluded memoranda of understanding with Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Zambia and Uganda.
Kenya’s first nuclear reactor is set for completion in 2027 while Uganda’s 2019 Inter-Governmental Agreement with Rosatom to help develop nuclear infrastructure remains in place.
Though it has not made any announcements in regards to implementing nuclear in its energy mix, earlier this year, Senegal shared its readiness for nuclear energy, through its Integrated Nuclear Security Support Plan (INSSP) developed alongside the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Supply and Demand of Energy In Africa
Africa’s population is rapidly growing, and more Africans are connected to electrical grids every year. As the continent industrializes, energy consumption will continue to grow. Africa’s population is projected to double by the year 2050 and will consequently spur a substantial rise in energy demand. Access to electricity is a requisite for a stable life and economic growth. As such, impoverished Africans face an uphill battle against the vicious cycle of poverty if they do not have access to electricity. Electricity allows people to be more productive at night, and many tech jobs require access to the internet.
To meet the growing energy demand, many African nations are considering turning to nuclear power. Currently, only South Africa has constructed a nuclear power plant to meet the energy demand. South Africa’s power plant in Cape Town provides safe, renewable and clean energy for the people of South Africa. South Africa plans to increase its nuclear capacity by 2,500 megawatts by the year 2024. The success of South Africa’s nuclear power plant demonstrates Africa’s untapped nuclear energy that can meet the increasing energy demand. Africa’s quickly growing population requires a diverse array of clean energy sources.
The Challenges of Nuclear energy
Nuclear energy is one of the more attractive options when considering a clean, reliable and cost-effective energy source. But, it does not come without its challenges.
For instance, it could take years for a country anywhere in the world to initiate a nuclear power programme and, infrastructure development could not come any sooner than 10 –15 years. Simply put, the nuclear route requires a lot of patience and dedication – especially in Africa where a number of countries are working towards development.
According to Miliko Kovachev, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Nuclear Infrastructure Development Section: “A successful nuclear power programme requires broad political and popular support and a national commitment of at least 100 years.”
A 100-year commitment would not address Africa’s pressing power needs in the near term, especially with sub-Saharan Africa’s population set to double over the next 30 years.
But, there is an alternative solution. Small scale nuclear reactors.
Defined by the World Nuclear Association as reactors that are generally 300MWe equivalent or less, small scale nuclear reactors are designed with modular technology using module factory fabrication, pursuing economies of series production and short construction times, making them one of the more practical solutions for African countries.
Another major hurdle of nuclear energy is financing. Due to its high cost of implementation, African countries looking at nuclear energy could be deterred. “But, there are financing mechanisms like, for instance, from export agencies of vendor countries. Tapping into a reliable, carbon-free supply of energy when vendors are offering to fund it can make sense for several countries in Africa,” said Kovachev.
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Clean and Reliable
Nuclear energy is a viable solution to Africa’s energy shortage because it is entirely renewable and relatively clean. Africans require access to electricity to escape poverty, and other energy sources are not as consistently reliable. For example, solar panels provide electricity for many people who live off the grid, but they cannot meet large African cities’ energy demand. In accordance with the global trend favoring urbanization, sub-Saharan Africa has one of the highest rates of urbanization in the world. Urban cities require great sums of electricity and require a constant stream of energy that is not disrupted by the weather.
With Africa’s population expected to double by 2050, it is crucial that people have access to electricity that is not dependent on variable conditions. Many nations use hydropower from dams, yet hydropower is vulnerable to drought. Both sunlight and wind energy are subjected to inconsistent weather, whereas nuclear power is consistent and plentiful throughout the year. These characteristics have compelled many nations to consider utilizing Africa’s untapped nuclear energy.
One of the most crucial requisites for escaping poverty is access to consistent electricity. With the world’s economy rapidly modernizing, well-paying jobs now require electricity and internet access. As such, people cannot escape poverty if they do not have access to electricity. Nuclear power is a viable solution to Africa’s energy shortage, and its benefits have compelled many nations to invest in Africa’s untapped nuclear potential.
Nuclear energy and the climate change debate
As the climate change debate continues and the global community seeks cleaner energy sources, the shift towards nuclear power for African countries would mean that they are able to reduce their carbon emissions as expressed under the Paris Agreement.
“African economic growth, job creation, and improved quality of life depend on affordable, abundant energy, nuclear-powered energy is clean, reliable and affordable. It is a workable solution for Africa. Of course, it will take a lot of time, hard work and it will be challenging but, we need to look at alternative energy solutions. Our populations are rising and the gap is widening, we need to address the power issue and, we need to be open to doing it through exploring different routes.