Africa has yet to fully utilize its vast hydropower potential. Currently the continent generates only 33% of its electricity from this clean source of energy. A trans-national project to rehabilitate and expand the Inga hydroelectric dams in the Democratic Republic of Congo could generate 80% of the electricity used in Africa by 2020. This is according to Amadou Hama Maiga, the deputy director general of the International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering (IIWEE) in Burkina Faso. However, experts warn that Africa cannot rely only on hydropower as a low carbon energy source. Africa experiences soaring temperatures and low rainfall can spell drought. Due to a persistent drought, several nations in East Africa have recently experienced a severe shortage in power. Kenya draws approximately 74% of its electricity from hydropower plants located in the country’s Tana River basin and in the Turkwei River gorge. The persistent low rainfall conditions have led to a dramatic drop in water levels at many of the reservoirs that supply Kenya’s hydropower plants. This results in a major drop in the country’s ability to generate enough power for its populace and its many water-dependent industries, leading to operation closures and job losses. Solutions such as power rationing and temporary power supply contracts are only short-term options and also cost the country a fortune.
Nuclear as a solution
As Africa’s population increases and economic and living standards rise, so does its demand for electricity. It is for this reason that experts such as Greg Kaser, Supply Chain Working Group, World Nuclear Association, UK, suggest nuclear power for the continent. He says that several African countries already have plans to develop nuclear energy. Kaser points out that nuclear power shouldn’t only be about reducing Africa’s carbon footprint; it should form an integral part of Africa’s development strategy. He explains that an institutional framework for regulation, operation and the management of social and environmental impacts are essential to nuclear’s long-term development on the continent. He suggests that local communities be consulted with the locating of nuclear power plants. This will give communities a clearer understanding of safety issues and the locals will be able give their opinion on location, often highlighting practical issues from a local point of view. Power plants will provide jobs and aid community development. As nuclear power does not rely on weather conditions, it makes for an attractive clean alternative to hydropower, especially during periods of drought. In additional, researchers are also concerned that building river dams and developing hydropower will compete with water and food security.
The establishment of nuclear power stations is costly but Kaser suggests that governments aid finance through their programs to encourage low carbon energy sources via loan guarantees, feed-in tariffs and export finance. Governments want to see a return on their investment so it is up to the nuclear industry to convince them that there will be a lower carbon footprint and the creation of high-skilled employment. Economic return will be realized when a series of standardized power plants are ordered, when there is a good degree of regulatory and policy certainty, and appropriate structuring has been put in place to address project management and financing.
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general Yukiya Amano confirms that African countries are seriously considering nuclear energy. The agency is currently working with countries such as Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, to help develop their nuclear power generating capacity. The agency has prepared a document, 'Milestones in the Development of a National Infrastructure for Nuclear Power' as a form of guidance. Amano notes that African countries are “very eager” to use nuclear technology for development. He explains that these countries want to enhance economic competitiveness, development and energy security and believe that the economic competitiveness of nuclear power will help them attain this.
Greg Kaser is part of a panel discussion on “Nuclear Power in Africa” at African Utility Week.
Nuclear power will form an integral part of Africa’s energy security. This is, however, reliant on financial backing by government and private investors. In addition, the long-term success of nuclear relies on the availability of skilled workers and an institutional framework for regulation and operation.