News / Africa

Africa Looks to Nuclear Power to Light Up Continent

Africa Looks to Nuclear Power to Light Up Continenti
Anita Powell
March 27, 2014 1:29 PM
At least three African nations are looking to add nuclear power to their grid. Kenya and Nigeria want to establish nuclear energy. South Africa, the only sub-Saharan nation with nuclear facilities, is looking to expand its capabilities. Until now, African nations have relied mostly on hydropower and coal. But those sources have taken a social and environmental tolls. But does Africa have the means to turn on nuclear power? VOA's Anita Powell brings us this report from Johannesburg.
Anita Powell
At least three African nations are looking to add nuclear power to their grid. Kenya and Nigeria want to establish nuclear energy, and South Africa, the only sub-Saharan nation with nuclear facilities, is looking to expand its capabilities. Until now, African nations have relied on age-old forms of energy generation: Hydropower and coal among them. But those sources have taken a social and environmental toll, displacing communities. But does Africa have the means to turn on nuclear power?
A NASA space flight over a darkened continent illuminated a fact that many Africans already know. The World Bank says fewer than 10 percent of African households have access to electricity. That, in turn, hampers industry and development on the world's poorest continent.
This dire need for power has pushed many African nations to consider nuclear energy - increasingly popular in developing and developed nations such as  the U.S., India and China.
Kelvin Kemm, a South African nuclear physicist, said Africa needs to look beyond traditional sources, such as water and hydrocarbons.

"Africa is very largely fueled with hydropower. And in Africa it's possible to have droughts that last a couple of years," he said. "Therefore it's very risky to build an economy on hydropower. Many are not fortunate enough to have coal and gas, and therefore nuclear is an ideal solution for Africa."
South Africa is the only African nation to have successfully developed nuclear technology, and gave up its weapons program in the 1990s. Today, the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station produces about 5 percent of the nation's electricity.

President Jacob Zuma said he wants more nuclear power to decrease the nation's reliance on coal.
"We expect to conclude the procurement of 9,600 megawatts of nuclear energy," he said.

Kenya and Nigeria say they too are building their nuclear programs to meet rising electricity needs from their burgeoning populations.  
According to Kemm, the power needs in Africa are so dire that ordinary power sources can't meet demand the way nuclear power can.
"They need to double  electricity consumption immediately, and then double it again, and again and again for their people," he said.

Critics of nuclear energy say it is not entirely safe, citing nuclear disasters like Fukushima in Japan and Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union.

But those critics' fears about Africa getting nuclear power may be drowned out by the almighty market.
France-based Vincent Industrie sells complicated components that are necessary to make a nuclear plant run. But sales manager Frederic Marrone, noted that you don't need to be a nuclear physicist to see why many impoverished African nations are slow to implement nuclear technology.
The problem, he said, is cost.
"We speak about Billions," he explained. "How much, I don't know, depending on the size, but just for us, equipment, we provide only equipment. For this, we speak about five million euros of equipment to manufacture only one part."

Experts say it will be years, even decades, before Africa finds a way to address its energy needs, with nuclear energy or otherwise.
But everyone agrees that more power is needed to bring Africa into the light.

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Comment Sorting
by: Aminu Wouba from: Cameroon
March 31, 2014 9:18 PM
This should not be a program for individual states to follow. The African Union has to implement an energy program for the continent,financed and supported by the African governments through partnerships with each other.A good example is the DRC/SA collaboration on the Grand Inga in the DRC.But this should be an AU led and harmonised process .The Inga dams are capable of electrifying Africa even by hydropower.

by: Radio Kakata USA from: Washington DC
March 28, 2014 9:02 PM
Africa should invest in clean energy from the SUN solar and WIND. We have enough problem as it is then to start worrying about nuclear waste and the rest that comes with it. Lets put the money for Nuclear energy into Health care and education.

by: Kai from: US
March 27, 2014 9:30 PM
Any one involved in energy policy should be required to scroll through the headlines at ENENEWS to learn what happens when nuclear energy goes wrong.

Very eye-opening!

by: Ian from: Ritchie
March 27, 2014 12:51 PM
This article seems to have been written by a reporter who knows nothing whatsoever about electricity and power in Africa. Everyone who has been observing the African scene in regards to electricity production has known that photovoltaic solar is the cheapest and quickest way to electrify the vast regions of Africa without regular electricity supply. Those who crunch numbers have known this for a long time. In fact, even back in the 1960s when photovoltaic solar was still very new and very expensive, it was cheaper even then to electrify an African village hundreds of miles from the nearest grid with photovoltaic solar because of the immense cost of high tension lines over hundreds of miles.

Today solar panels produce at $0.40 per watt, as opposed to $4.00 per watt just ten years ago. It is the only source of energy that has consistently come down in price every singly year from 1970 up to the present. Nuclear, by contrast, has gone up in price every year since that date, and nuclear projects have never come in on time or on budget. It is absolute foully to propose nuclear as a solution in Africa. Since the article says nothing about the new solar initiatives actually funded by the Kenyan government, who now recognize the solar advantage, I can only conclude the above article was written by someone handpicked by the nuclear industry solely because they had no knowledge of their topic whatsoever.
In Response

by: Chibikom, Inc. from: Bamenda, Cameroon
March 27, 2014 3:09 PM
Definitely, safety concerns mean we should look at alternatives. I would like those countries to learn from the mistakes of others & develop sound nuclear plants that can stand the test of security, safety, and quality.

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