atw 2018-03v6


atw Vol. 63 (2018) | Issue 3 ı March



* Egypt, Ghana,

Kenya, Morocco,

Niger, Nigeria,

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

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