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Getting Ready for Nuclear Energy in Africa

When developing countries consider nuclear energy, it can give one pause. Not because such countries are inherently incapable of grasping and implementing the technology but because the technology could be beyond their current developmental level. If a country has barely met its electricity needs up to now, it would not seem to have the infrastructure necessary to introduce thousands of megawatts onto its grid. That’s an uncomfortable statement, but also an uncomfortable feeling, and it’s worth testing – and it is getting tested.

This year, the IAEA will, for the first time, conduct Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review missions to Nigeria, Kenya and Morocco - three countries which are considering introducing nuclear power.

These are review missions by international experts who help countries assess the status of their national nuclear infrastructure. They are part of the comprehensive package of assistance which the IAEA provides to help ensure that even the most challenging issues in introducing nuclear power can be successfully dealt with, Amano said.

Yukiya Amano is the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In fact, Amano makes it clear that developing countries may benefit by entering the arena now rather than earlier:

"The IAEA, with 163 Member States, brings together countries with advanced nuclear power programs and what we call 'newcomers'. This sharing of knowledge and experience means newcomers are not condemned to repeat the mistakes of pioneers," he said. "They can benefit sooner from the shorter construction times, more profitable performance, and higher safety levels of today's best plants. There may be potential for smaller countries to cooperate regionally on nuclear power projects which might be too expensive for any one of them on its own."

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I was curious about this topic because South Africa is calling attention to its 50th anniversary of nuclear energy, and Amano’s comments about it struck me as especially on-point.

“Access to electricity is essential for development," he said. "The number of countries interested in nuclear power continues to grow, despite the Fukushima accident. ... Many countries see nuclear power as a stable and clean source of energy that can help mitigate the impact of climate change.”

One always sees the second two points – “stable and clean” – but not the first – at least not enough – and it’s especially important especially in Africa, though not only in Africa – “Access to electricity is essential for development.” That’s an absolute truth in the modern world and not owned by the nuclear energy industry – it applies to all generators.

Though neither of these articles mention it, developing countries are caught in a tough position, wanting to build out their electricity infrastructure but under pressure not to add to the world’s carbon dioxide output. We’ve seen this play out at various COP conferences, where countries have butted heads over the seemingly incompatible issues of carbon emissions and economic development. That’s where nuclear energy (and renewable energy, too) comes in.

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South Africa’s history with nuclear energy is as mixed as its history is in every other respect – the story of South Africa is very disturbing until fairly recently – but this detail struck me:

Nuclear medicine produced at South Africa's Pelindaba research site — generated by the SAFARI-1, water-cooled research reactor — is used in about 10 million medical procedures in more than 60 countries every year, saving millions of lives.

That’s true and has been for years – Pelindaba has been key to the development of nuclear medicine on the continent and remains an important producer of molybdenum-99, which is used in many medical procedures. And, we should mention, South Africa has had two reactors steadily putting out electricity for the last 30 years.

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With South Africa having led the way, I think Amano’s position on nuclear energy is unassailable. “Access to electricity is essential for development.” And Africa is finding its way to nuclear energy.

Comments

The safest and most economical way to quickly introduce nuclear power to coastal African countries (most of Africa) would be through floating Ocean Nuclear Power systems such as those being developed by Russian and also being proposed in the US.

Such floating nuclear facilities could be only a few kilometers off the coast or more than 100 or 200 kilometers away from the coast, depending on what its preferred by the individual nation.

Marcel

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