atw Vol. 63 (2018) | Issue 3 ı March
INSIDE NUCLEAR WITH NUCNET
* Egypt, Ghana,
South Africa, Sudan,
Tunisia and Uganda
The Nuclear Option:
Can This Be Africa’s Energy Future?
Uranium first left Africa’s shores for wealthier nations in the 1940s, when the U.S. shipped 30,000 tonnes
of it from the Shinkolobwe mine in Katanga province in the Democratic Republic of Congo to be used in the
first atomic bombs. In return, the U.S. helped the DRC build Africa’s first nuclear reactor – a research unit at
the University of Kinshasa – in 1958.
Niger began mining uranium in 1971, with all the output
going to French nuclear reactors. Around 19 % of the
world’s uranium reserves are held by three African nations:
Niger, Namibia, and South Africa. In 2015, the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began a project to
increase and improve the current capacity of member
states in Africa for “optimising production, implementation
of good practices and overall effective management of
the region’s natural uranium endowment”.
And yet while the rest of the world used Africa’s uranium
resources to embrace nuclear technology, South Africa was
the only country on the continent to develop domestic
nuclear energy generation, with its Koeberg nuclear station
beginning commercial operation in the mid-1980s.
There are 448 commercial nuclear reactors in operation
today, but only two of them, at Koeberg, in Africa. Yet if
ambitious policymakers have their way, that could change.
For the first time, many African countries have expressed
an interest in developing nuclear power for peaceful
energy generation. According to the IAEA, more than 30
member states are considering or preparing nuclear power
programmes for the first time, a third of them in Africa.
In January 2017, the IAEA conducted an eight-day
review of Ghana’s nuclear programme, following similar
reviews in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. The rest of the
continent is enthusiastic – some 150 officials from 35
African countries gathered under the IAEA in Kenya in
April 2015 to chart a way forward. Ten African countries*
formed the African Network for Enhancing Nuclear Power
Programme Development. The network intends to build and
strengthen national and regional capacity for planning,
developing and managing the infrastructure for new and
expanding nuclear power programmes.
For Africa, the driving factor behind plans for new
nuclear is evident. The continent’s inability to generate
enough electricity continues to hamper economic growth,
cutting 2 to 4 % off GDP every year, according to the Africa
Progress Panel. The panel estimates that some 600 million
people on the continent do not have access to electricity, a
figure that will require $ 55 bn per year in investment by
2030 to fix.
The IAEA says that in sub-Saharan Africa, only about a
third of the population have access to electricity and the
number of people without access is on the rise. This
presents a significant barrier to economic and social
development and so governments across the continent are
seeking ways to improve their existing energy infrastructure,
and develop new or diverse energy sources that
are reliable, affordable and sustainable.
Against this backdrop, nuclear technology has acquired
a reputation among policymakers as a cost-effective and
environmentally friendly fix. “Nuclear power is considered
a prominent alternative and a more environmentally
beneficial solution since it emits far less greenhouse gases
during electricity generation than coal or other traditional
power plants,” Ogbonnaya Onu, Nigeria’s Minister of
Science and Technology, told local media in December
2017. “It is a manageable source of generating electricity
and has large power-generating capacity that can meet
industrial and city needs.”
Yet not all are so enamoured with Africa’s nuclear plans.
Opponents point to the high upfront costs of nuclear power
stations, the security and safety issues of hosting plants in
volatile countries, and the technological and political
improvement that will be required to bring legislative and
regulatory systems up to date.
Nigeria is typical. Africa’s most populous country has
decided to include nuclear power in its energy mix to meet
an increasing demand for electricity and support economic
development. The country has been developing its nuclear
power infrastructure for several years.
But last year the IAEA said Nigeria’s nuclear regulator
faces challenges related to its independence and in
developing the skills to carry out regulatory activities.
Nigeria’s government needs to ensure that the Nigerian
Nuclear Regulatory Authority is independent and
functionally separate from organisations that could
influence its decision-making. The IAEA highlighted the
fact that Nigeria has no national policy on safety that
is in line with global safety standards.
Charles Adesanmi, retired former director of Nigeria’s
Nuclear Technology Centre, believes there are two issues
that are inhibiting Africa’s use of nuclear energy for
electricity: cost and public opinion.
He said: “First of all, anything that has to do with power
generation requires a lot of money. If we are unable to
adequately fund hydro, solar, coal, gas, how can we be
talking of funding nuclear which is more expensive?”
The issue of cost is the big one. South Africa’s
state-owned utility Eskom has given itself the internal
target that for new nuclear to make sense, the levelised
cost of electricity (LCOE) from the project must be
between $ 60 and $ 80 per MWh for the first two reactor
The IAEA has put the LCOE for the construction of new
nuclear power plants in a range from $ 40 to $ 100 per
MWh. It says there is “significant overlap” in the range of
the average LCOE produced by various energy technologies,
but despite its significant up-front costs nuclear is
competitive. (LCOE is the long-term price at which the
electricity produced by a power plant will have to be sold at
for the investor to cover all their costs).
Opponents to new nuclear in South Africa say the
procurement deal would be the largest in the country’s
history at an estimated $ 77 bn (€ 72 bn). The government,
which has said it wants to generate 9,600 MW of energy
from as many as eight reactors, has put the total cost at
anything from $ 37 bn (€ 34.8 bn) to $ 100 bn (€ 94 bn).
Inside Nuclear with NucNet
The Nuclear Option: Can This Be Africa’s Energy Future? ı NucNet