Africa’s nuclear power plans8 February 2023
Backed by the IAEA, Africa is set to be one of the world’s nuclear development hotspots in the coming years as the continent looks to build a safe, secure and low-carbon energy system.
Above: South Africa is currently the continent’s only operator with its two-unit Koeberg nuclear power plant (Photo credit: Richard van der Spuy/Shutterstock.com)
A third of the almost 30 countries currently considering nuclear power are in Africa. Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan have already engaged with the IAEA to assess their readiness to embark on a nuclear programme. Algeria, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia are also studying the possibility of nuclear power.
As Mikhail Chudakov, Deputy Director General and head of the Department of Nuclear Energy at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says: “Africa is hungry for energy, and nuclear power could be part of the answer for an increasing number of countries”.
Government ministers and officials from several African countries discussed the potential of nuclear power in supporting sustainable development and the transition to clean and reliable energy as the IAEA released new publication on the subject during the 66th IAEA General Conference in September.
The event, “Supporting the Energy Transition in Africa”, showcased the 2022 edition of “Climate Change and Nuclear Power”, which is updated every two years and provides technical information and data on how nuclear power can contribute to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The latest publication features a detailed chapter on nuclear power in Africa. During the event, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi held a wide-ranging discussion with representatives from Egypt, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa.
“Everywhere I am hearing this global conversation about energy security, climate change and nuclear power, and whether by virtue of changes in circumstance, climate or security needs, it is quite clear that nuclear now has a place at the table,” Grossi said. “What I like about this discussion, is that there is no discussion without Africa. The Africans have said themselves [...] ‘we need to contribute, and we need our own specific analysis of how this nuclear jewel is going to be used for African economies’.”
Africa needs energy
The new publication points out that some 600 million people and 10 million small businesses in Africa have no reliable source of electricity and that, increasingly, connection to a national grid is no guarantee of electricity supply. Blackouts are becoming more frequent, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, Africa’s energy demand is increasing twice as fast as the global average, largely driven by urban population growth.
Through its Milestones Approach, the IAEA supports around 30 nuclear newcomer countries in Africa and around the world in their efforts to develop the necessary infrastructure for a safe, secure and sustainable nuclear power programme.
As countries in Africa consider or embark on nuclear power, Grossi stressed they would have the Agency’s full support. “The IAEA will be with you every step of the way,” he said.
Several countries in Africa are therefore exploring the possibility of adding nuclear power to their energy mix. Currently South Africa is the only nuclear operator in Africa with two reactors at its Koeberg NPP totalling almost 2000MWe, but it is considering extending the life of the plants and expanding its nuclear power programme. Egypt has already embarked on a nuclear programme and is building four 1200MWe reactors at El-Dabaa on the Mediterranean coast. Other countries who have received support from IAEA to develop a nuclear power programme include Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, and Niger.
Ghana has been an IAEA member state since 1960. “Ghana is looking to introduce nuclear power to provide the necessary diversity of baseload to ensure energy security for our future demands,” Kwaku Afriyie, Ghana’s Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation said. “Our hydropower potential is almost exhausted, and so our interest in nuclear is to make sure we have energy for our transition and development.”
Ghana’s Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) was set up in 1963 and from 1994 operated a small research reactor supplied by China. GAEC and the University of Ghana established the School of Nuclear and Allied Sciences (SNAS) in 2006 to train nuclear scientists. The Ghana Nuclear Power Programme Organisation (GNPPO) was established in 2012 and the Ghana Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) in 2015. Ghana in 2013 submitted a letter to IAEA formally declaring its intention to pursue a nuclear power programme.
In 2017 and 2019, Ghana hosted IAEA Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) teams to assess its progress. Anthony Stott, leader of the 2019 mission, said: “The main preparatory work needed for the government to be able to commit to go forward with the nuclear power programme has been done. What remains is further consideration of certain options to ensure Ghana is well prepared for discussions with vendors and other potential partners.” IAEA noted that Ghana has safely operated a nuclear research facility for 24 years and has significant experience with the non-power application of nuclear technology, including in the medical and industrial fields.
In September 2022, Ghana’s President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, officially approved the inclusion of nuclear power into the country’s power generation mix. He said the announcement, technically known as the National Position, satisfied one of the key 19 infrastructure issues specified in the IAEA’s Milestones Approach.
Kenya and Nigeria
Both Kenya and Nigeria are following the IAEA’s Milestones Approach and are working with the IAEA within the framework of Integrated Work Plans (IWPs). Nigeria, which has been an IAEA member since 1964, has a well- established nuclear infrastructure. The Nigerian Atomic Energy Commission (NEAC), set up in 1976, is responsible for the national Nuclear Energy Programme Implementation Committee (NEPIC). Nigeria’s first research reactor, supplied by China, was commissioned in 2004. NEAC’s national nuclear power road map, approved by the government in 2007, was followed in 2009 by a Strategic Plan for implementation of a national nuclear power programme.
In 2013, preparations were made for an IAEA INIR mission, which took place in 2015. “Nigeria is currently in Phase 2 of the Milestones process. Having completed our site selection, we are now in the process of carrying out feasibility studies on the three power production technologies being considered,” said Professor Abdullahi Mati, Director of Nuclear Power Plant Development at the NAEC.
Earlier in 2022, Nigeria with Agency’s assistance, finalised the draft of its Atomic Energy Bill to make it more coherent with the country’s comprehensive nuclear legislation and with international nuclear law. The IAEA held a series of meetings with NAEC, the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NNRA). A key focus was to delineate between the responsibilities of the NAEC, NNRA and other authorities, and to avoid potential overlaps. This was implemented within the framework of the IAEA Legislative Assistance Programme under the Agency’s Technical Cooperation programme.
Kenya became an IAEA member in 1965. It began considering nuclear power in 2010, and an IAEA INIR mission visited in 2015. The Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board (KNEB) was set up in 2014 and in 2019, KNEB became the Nuclear Power and Energy Agency (NuPEA). In 2021 another INIR mission said Kenya has made progress in implementing the recommendations made earlier. Kenya is also in the second phase of the Milestones Approach and has established its national nuclear regulator; identified preferred and alternate plant sites, and is presently focussing on the development of its nuclear workforce by participating in Nuclear Energy Management Schools and other IAEA- organised training events.
“Kenya is pursuing nuclear power to ensure energy security and energy diversity well into the future,” explained Chesire Edwin, Kenya’s National Liaison Officer. “The role of nuclear power in climate change is at the top of our agenda and it’s expected that Kenya’s nuclear power programme will be a game-changer in achieving our development priorities.”
Uganda and Niger
Uganda joined the IAEA in 1967. It began establishing a framework for its nuclear power programme in 2008 when the Atomic Energy Bill came into effect and an agreement was signed with the IAEA. Uganda’s Vision 2040 roadmap envisages significant nuclear capacity as part of the future energy mix. The Uganda Atomic Energy Council under the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development developed a Nuclear Power Roadmap Development Strategy that was approved by the cabinet 2015. An IAEA INIR mission visited in 2021 and concluded that the government is committed to developing the required infrastructure for nuclear power. Uganda said in 2022 that it had acquired land for the construction of its first NPP and had so far trained 22 nuclear engineers to the master’s degree level.
Niger joined IAEA in 1969. Niger said in 2018 that it intended to build a NPP, after an IAEA INIR mission recommended improving economic planning for plant construction and operation. The mission noted that necessary legislation had already been adopted and an independent body for nuclear regulation set up. Niger had also undertaken studies related to nuclear infrastructure development and prepared a comprehensive report.
Training and education
IAEA also organises training and educational events for African countries interested in nuclear energy development. In June 2022, the Third Nuclear Energy Management (NEM) School in Africa was hosted by South Africa. The previous two schools were held in 2016 and 2018.
At the most recent event, 41 participants from 14 African countries met in Pretoria to learn more about every aspect of nuclear power production, from energy planning and nuclear law to safety, security and radioactive waste management. The two-week training course was supported by IAEA experts, guest lecturers and South African contributors from the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (NECSA), the Department of Mineral Resources (DMRE) and the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR). Katse Maphoto, Deputy Director General of Nuclear Energy Regulation at DMRE, noted: “Africa remains a key destination for the expansion of nuclear applications and for training in nuclear technologies.” NECSA Group CEO Loyiso Tyabashe said the NEM School will help to ensure that Africa has capable leaders in the nuclear sphere. “These are leaders who will run successful nuclear power programmes and who will advocate for the role of nuclear technology in their national energy mixes.”
Implemented in both national and regional formats, the IAEA’s NEM Schools leverage the Agency’s international perspective and technical expertise to deliver targeted training across all dimensions of nuclear power generation. Graduates are expected to bolster the nuclear workforce of their respective countries with new technical and managerial skills. “The School is among the key support services offered to member states by the IAEA,” said Senior IAEA Knowledge Management Specialist Ian Gordon, who also serves as the Scientific Secretary of the School.
Lerato Makgae, National Liaison Officer of South Africa to the IAEA, described how the skills developed through the school are transferable to sectors beyond power production. “The potential of nuclear science in Africa becomes even more apparent when the scope of development is widened to include human capital – particularly in fields such as energy, healthcare, food security and agriculture, which are priorities in the region,” she said.
IAEA’s support for Africa is not limited to nuclear power development but covers many areas which have benefited from IAEA expertise for decades through its Technical Co-operation Department. The Agency’s technical cooperation with member states aims to promote tangible socioeconomic impacts, supporting the use of nuclear science and technology to address major sustainable development priorities at the national, regional and interregional levels. The technical cooperation programme is the IAEA’s primary mechanism for transferring nuclear technology to member states, in areas such as health and nutrition, food and agriculture, water and the environment, industrial applications, radiation technology and nuclear knowledge development and management. The programme also helps countries to identify and meet future energy needs and assists in improving radiation safety and nuclear security.
The IAEA provides technical cooperation support to 45 countries in Africa and currently has 456 active technical cooperation projects. The Agency’s regional technical cooperation programme in Africa comprises projects under the African Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training related to Nuclear Science and Technology (AFRA), as well as regional projects outside this framework. Its objective is to strengthen human resource development, to further improve the existing infrastructure and to foster technical cooperation among countries in Africa through the exchange of knowledge, expertise and analytical services.
This includes Country Programme Frameworks (CPFs) prepared by member states in collaboration with the Secretariat, defines mutually agreed priority development needs and interests to be supported through technical cooperation activities. A CPF reflects national development plans and priorities, country specific analyses and lessons learned from past cooperation, and also takes into consideration the Sustainable Development Goals, as appropriate. This ensures that the application of nuclear technologies is integrated with existing development initiatives and plans and supports the identification of areas where such technologies might be usefully deployed. A CPF generally covers a period of four to six years.
To accelerate and expand the contribution of nuclear technologies to development, growth and health in Africa, the IAEA supports long-term training programmes throughout the region with the aim of cultivating a critical mass of experts ready to provide services in radiotherapy, environmental monitoring, soil management and more. Through AFRA, the IAEA has established and supported the African Network for Education in Nuclear Science and Technology (AFRA-NEST) with the objective of harmonising nuclear science curricula and promoting effective academic cooperation throughout the region.
IAEA also supports the development of human resources at the national level through technical cooperation fellowships and, more recently, through the IAEA Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellowship.
Supporting food security with nuclear techhnology
Food and nutrition security – or regular access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food – continues to be challenged by often overlapping factors, including droughts, floods or harmful insects. At another event at the IAEA’s 66th General Conference: “Enhancing Capacities of Member States in Africa to Achieve Food Security Through the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Techniques”, delegates reviewed the progress attained in the agricultural sector towards adapting to climate change on the African continent with the help of nuclear science and technology.
“The continent faces substantial challenges in ensuring food security and improving nutrition. An even closer collaboration across countries and institutions in the region and at the international level is needed to address these challenges effectively,” said Hua Liu, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation.
Expert presentations included a case study on Namibia’s experience with drought-tolerant crops through the use of plant mutation breeding; Morocco’s successes in agricultural soil and water management using fallout radionuclides and the stable isotope technique; regional initiatives on climate-smart agriculture using nuclear technology to enhance sustainability, and human resource development in nuclear science and technology in Africa.
In Uganda, for example, experts have used plant mutation breeding to tackle brown streak disease that endangers the root vegetable, cassava. In Ghana, molecular and nuclear-derived techniques have been applied to swiftly diagnose and assist in early containing bird flu in 2018, averting a major economic blow to the region’s poultry industry.
Currently, IAEA works with 47 African countries to increase agricultural productivity, build the resilience of food systems to climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture and ensure food and nutrition security, considering national and local specificities. “While addressing the issue of food security we must look at the entire value chain – from farm to fork,” said Najat Mokhtar, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Application, at the event. “Nuclear techniques play a role in food and agriculture aiming to contribute to global food security and sustainable agricultural development.”
Above: Nuclear technology buildng food security
Nuclear addresses climate concerns
The IAEA also takes a wider view of climate change, offering practical support. In October 2022, Djibouti, with the assistance of IAEA, inaugurated a research observatory to study the impact of climate change. The observatory will help Djibouti, which is facing drought and famine, to better manage water and food resources that are increasingly under threat from global warming. The Regional Research Observatory on the Environment and Climate (RROEC) will use nuclear and related techniques to produce data and climate models that can inform political decisions on climate adaptation and resilience for the whole East African region. “Thanks to the IAEA and other partners, this Observatory became a reality – we are able to put in place reliable and operational models for climate change adaptation and lasting resilience,” said Djibouti President Ismai¨l Omar Guelleh during the opening ceremony, which was attended also by President of Somalia Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and other high-level representatives from the region including from Comoros, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.
Djibouti’s population of one million is highly vulnerable to climate change and depends on imports for most of its food. Higher temperatures, increased aridity, water scarcity and rising sea levels are expected to continue to affect the country and wider region.
Some of the factors causing this situation are chronic droughts, floods, tropical cyclones and pest invasions. According to available research, if poor seasonal rainfall continues throughout this year, an unprecedented drought in the Horn of Africa, combined with famine, could be imminent. Also, if the temperature rises by 2°C compared with pre-industrial levels, over 90% of East African coral reefs are projected to be severely degraded by bleaching, and African marine and freshwater fisheries will be significantly threatened.
“The burden of climate change falls disproportionately on the most vulnerable among us,” said Grossi during his opening speech.
The RROEC will use information from isotopes to produce climate models and mapping tools. It will track, among other things, the origin of air masses that bring rain, groundwater replenishment rates, and the movement of water through the hydrological cycle. Such information can be used by governments and aid agencies to assist with the management and prevention of water crises or other environmental crises.
For example, isotopes data can be used to produce groundwater vulnerability maps that can inform decision makers about water availability in the aquifers. This information can support management of aquifers, increase awareness about water quality and scarcity, and improve warning systems on droughts and floods in Djibouti and the Horn of Africa.
“The burden of climate change falls disproportionately on the most vulnerable among us,” said Grossi during his opening speech. Referring to RROEC, he added: “I am delighted that the IAEA was able to make it happen. But we will not stop here, we will continue to assist Djibouti to achieve its priorities including its climate change adaptation goals.”
Above: RROEC will use nuclear techniques to model
Author: Judith Perera, Contributing Editor, Nuclear Engineering International