Africa and nuclear

2nd April 2010 By: Terence Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

With the global electricity equation bearing all the hallmarks of stress, it is only natural that countries are starting to interrogate all their supply-side options.

It is also only natural for nuclear energy, which is capital intensive to construct, but highly competitive to operate, to be among those choices, particularly given its low-carbon edge over the world’s other main baseload alternative: coal.

There are already more than 50 new nuclear reactors under con- struction across the globe and another 142 planned, with US President Barack Obama having last month announced loan guarantees for the first new nuclear power reactors in America in a generation, despite polls showing that nearly half of all Democratic Party supporters are still uncertain about the technology and its long-lasting waste implications.

Somewhat more surprising, though, is the number of African countries considering the nuclear-energy option – an issue highlighted in this week’s cover story.

We report that the International Atomic Energy Agency is already providing assistance to Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia, besides other African states, for studies regarding the adoption of nuclear energy as a means of generating electricity. Further, South Africa’s neighbour, Namibia, is also showing interest in joining the growing nuclear-energy club.

In fact, the governments of Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia have already signed agreements with nuclear-energy powerhouse France establishing frameworks within which France will provide these countries with the expertise necessary to allow them to add nuclear power to their national power mixes.

Equally surprising is the fact that nuclear is already a feature, albeit modest, of the African energy landscape. South Africa has three reactors (one research reactor, at Pelindaba, west of Pretoria, and two pressurised water reactors at Koeberg, near Cape Town), while Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Libya, Morocco and Nigeria operate research reactors.

It appears, though, that South Africa’s nuclear revival is still the most advanced on the continent, despite the delays surrounding Eskom’s so-called Nuclear 1, with the country’s nuclear programme increasingly looking more like a ‘when’ than an ‘if’.