Monday, August 13, 2012

A Nuclear Namibia Nearer Than Naught?

windhoekIf you’ve read enough of our posts here, you know we like to keep up with what’s happening around the world – who’s interested in nuclear energy, who’s building facilities, and who’s making a big mistake – the aspirational, the inspirational and the laughable. But even when you pay close attention, a surprise will come along now and then:

The Minister of Mines and Energy (MME), Isak Katali, says the inadequate supply of power in Southern Africa leaves the door open for the possibility of a nuclear power station in Namibia.

Namibia? Really? It could use the development – half of its 2.1 million people live in poverty – and the country has enough uranium deposits to ensure energy security. It also has a stable government, no small thing.

Namibia currently imports about 50 percent of its electricity and is suffering shortages despite this (the story doesn’t really explain why).

Namibia will face a shortage of about 80 megawatts (MW) of electricity by this coming winter.

[Minister of Mines and Energy Isak] Katali said the deficit will continue to increase every year, with a shortage of 300 MW forecast for 2015.

As a net importer of over 50 per cent of its electricity demand, Namibia will always be directly affected by the regional power supply situation, which has been critical since 2008.

Katali gave his assurance that his ministry has been hard at work with power utility NamPower and the Electricity Control Board to speed up the completion of planned energy generation projects.

Namibia's main source of power generation, the Ruacana hydropower station, will be boosted with the installation of a fourth generator unit, and when commissioned in March, an additional 92 MW will be added to the current installed capacity of 249 MW at the power station.

And now nuclear – this story is from February, before the more recent addition of nuclear energy to the conversation. How seriously should this be taken? Well, let’s say it’s in the early talking stage right now.

"I am not saying we will have a nuclear plant, all I am saying is that government through our ministry and the electricity supply industry are looking at all power sources, among them, wind energy, hydro and coal-fired stations, a solar thermal collector and the possibility of a nuclear power station in the future," he [Katali] said.

Especially in terms of carbon emissions, Namibia has been exceptionally responsible in its energy profile, favoring hydroelectric and thermal power. Nuclear energy could actually make a good fit. Or would it?

With the country scrambling for new energy sources, including coal-fired power stations, biomass and wind power, nuclear aspirations are seen as contrary to government's advocacy for green energy.

Oh, really? Loads of electricity and no emissions? It solves almost all of Namibia’s energy issues in one swoop – no need to import electricity, a consistent source of generation and an engine for further modernization. (I can’t help but think that small reactor vendors would find a welcome home here, too, able to keep costs down if that’s an issue.)

We’ll keep an eye on it – who knows, it could prove a model for Africa.

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One of the reasons Katali is thinking of nuclear energy right now may be this:

A new commission to coordinate and promote the development of nuclear energy in Africa is set to become fully operational after key founding documents were finalized and adopted. South Africa has agreed to host the commission in Pretoria.

I imagine the IAEA is involved in this effort, though it isn’t mentioned in the story. But the goals of the new organization show that it is serious in intent and somewhat modest in affect at this early juncture:

Afcone chairman Abdul Samad Minty of South Africa said that the commission "could play a useful role to facilitate the implementation by African states of the relevant legally binding instruments and codes of conduct on nuclear safety and security, and have in place their respective nuclear safety and security infrastructures." He noted, "A key aspect of our work is to promote nuclear sciences and applications."

Namibia isn’t listed among the originating members. They are: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritius, Senegal, South Africa, Togo and Tunisia. It’s a start.

Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. From a blog about the city’s night life (!): “For many of us born in the land between the Kalahari and Namib deserts it is the only big city we will ever know and for many others it will be the smallest they’ll ever know. To some it is an African city with European hopes, for others a European city whose sunshine and blue skies are the only betrayals of its unabashed Europeaness but for us of this land, Windhoek is our eternal city. The dwelling place of our gods and the sacred resting place of our ancestors.” And the bar scene? Read the site for that.

2 comments:

crf said...

The Square Km Array Telescope will need ~110 MW, reports the Economist magazine.

Probably it's not possible to build a new nuclear plant prior to the array being built. But this telescope will put an increasing strain on the region's power infrastructure, so continued investment in this area is likely needed for the project's long term success.

jim said...

All the power to Namiba! Against some outside historical perceptions, Africans can handle it!

James Greenidge
Queens NY