Representing one of the most low-carbon energy sources globally, nuclear power has become a particularly attractive resource, particularly in Africa where growing energy demand and the need to transition to a cleaner energy future calls for heightened investment in new technologies. As such, several developments are underway across the country.
Currently, South Africa remains the only country on the continent with an operational nuclear power plant, which produces 5% of its domestic power, with the country’s Government having expressed its intent to increase nuclear capacity to 10,000 MW in the future.
However, the 1,940 MW Koeberg nuclear power station, which is owned and operated by state-run power utility, Eskom, currently requires urgent investment to secure the extension of its lifespan.
In addition to the Koeberg nuclear power station, the El Dabaa nuclear power plant started construction in Egypt in mid-2022 as part of the North African country’s nuclear power program to construct four reactors in collaboration with Russian national nuclear technology company, Rosatom. With organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and the African Commission on Nuclear Energy serving to ensure the effectiveness and implementation of regulatory frameworks for the sustainable development of nuclear power on the continent, countries such as Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria have also been preparing for nuclear expansion through the development of legal and regulatory frameworks and personnel training.
Meanwhile, offering an opportunity to take advantage of existing systems and Africa’s vast uranium resources, the continent is home to 11 research reactors, situated in Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa, and covering a power range from 0.1 kW to 22 MW, with Rwanda having received approval from Rosatom to construct a nuclear research center, set for completion by 2024.
Additionally, in 2021, the Government of Ethiopia signed a contract with Rosatom for training and skills development in nuclear energy, while the U.S. has been assisting Ghana in the development of a nuclear-radiological emergency response program, with the West African country currently implementing plans to expand and refurbish its radioactive waste storage facility. In Southern Africa, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Government of Zimbabwe and Rosatom for the exploration of the feasibility of developing a nuclear science and technology center, while Zambia signed an MoU in 2018 with the nuclear technology company for the construction of a Center for Nuclear Science and Technology.
Meanwhile, in 2018, Uganda signed an MoU with China’s National Nuclear Corporation to cooperate on nuclear power while having signed a contract in 2017 with Rosatom to develop nuclear power infrastructure. Additionally, the Governments of Senegal and France signed a cooperative agreement in 2018 for the establishment of a center of excellence in nuclear science and technology in order to promote technical expertise and support adequate training to achieve its nuclear technology development goals.
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To support the peaceful application of nuclear energy to drive socioeconomic development, alleviate energy poverty and mitigate climate change, the Atoms for Development program, funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has sought to strengthen Africa’s nuclear governance and facilitate the continent’s ability to develop nuclear technology. Main priorities that have been identified for Africa to overcome include nuclear applications in human health, radioactive waste management, verification and information processing technologies, and institutional frameworks for nuclear safety and security.
Despite these advancements in Africa’s nuclear market, the continent still faces numerous challenges such as a lack of infrastructure and human resources as well as financing mechanisms, with political instability on the continent exacerbating various economic, social and environmental hurdles. As such, the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa has identified various solutions to financing more nuclear power plants, such as government funding with money from state-owned companies, intergovernmental loans, corporate financing and special investment and Build-Own-Operate structures. Now, a new era of development is in sight, with the continent’s nuclear market set for unprecedented growth in 2023 and beyond.