A dire shortage of electricity could mean Africa’s emerging economies turn to nuclear to underpin industrial growth. The countries of Sub-Saharan Africa have sustained strong economic growth in the last 15 years. However, in order to maintain the existing annual economic growth rate of approximately 5-6%, African countries will need to ensure that power infrastructure is developed at a far greater rate.
The rapid development of the power industry and, consequently, the economy can ensure the growth of the middle class, faster urbanization, an increase in the output of enterprises, and the emergence of high-tech agriculture and medicine.
To achieve this, African countries will need to work out a balanced strategy for the development of the power industry which would include the use of diverse and clean energy sources. Countries such as Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana, are planning to rapidly develop a balanced power industry in accordance with new and diverse strategies. The transformation of countries into responsible and gainful members of the international community is a top priority.
Indeed, “the correlation between standard of living and energy usage is virtually synonymous, since what is considered a measure of a comfortable life necessarily includes refrigeration, lighting, transportation, heating and air conditioning, electronics for both entertainment and business, and other appurtenances that consume energy”, argues Tom Blees, the president of the Science Council for Global Initiatives.
Already more countries besides South Africa – the only nuclear producer on the continent – are showing interest. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Yukiya Amano has said more than a third of the 30 or so countries embarking on a nuclear path are in Africa.
As mentions Ben Heard, head of NGO Bright New World, “we need power that’s stable, that’s reliable, not just low-cost, but that actually provides necessary stability in the system, so we don’t have events like serious blackouts. And options that are low-carbon and bring all those characteristics are very thin on the ground. And so the best option that brings those characteristics is nuclear technology and if we can come up with the right mix of nuclear and renewable technologies, then we can have the electricity system and an energy system that is completely decarbonized, not just partly decarbonized. And completely decarbonized is what we desperately need for the environment”.
This January, the IAEA conducted an eight-day review of the nuclear programmes in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya. Kenya has already signed a deal with Kepco of South Korea and plans its first plant by 2027 at a cost of US$5 billion, while Nigeria plans plants with Russia’s Rosatom.
Some nuclear proponents feel that small modular reactors (SMRs) – mini nuclear plants also can be an option for African countries. These reactors produce less than 300 megawatts of power. This should satisfy the needs of a small city and when more energy is needed, another can be added. SMRs have been talked about for years, but have yet to catch on in the West. Only a few countries so far have deployed them – China, India, Russia and Argentina.
Nuclear is in a sense already playing its part in African development. The IAEA runs a programme that uses ionising radiation to sterilise male tsetse flies. These are released and mate with females, who produce no offspring. Tsetse flies carry diseases that kill up to 3 million cattle a year, and infect thousands of humans with the dreaded sleeping sickness, according to the IAEA.