Nuclear energy was a key topic of discussion at the first Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum held in Sochi (Russia) on 23 and 24 October attended by representatives of all 54 African countries including 43 state leaders. 

“In our opinion, demand for nuclear technologies on the African continent is the most intense, said Alexey Likhachev director general of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom. “The atmosphere of challenges in which we usually work and to which we usually overcome are the most pressing in the countries of Africa and require immediate solutions. The continent, richest in mineral reserves, is energy-deficient today, and in some countries this deficit is catastrophic.”

During a conference session on the contribution of nuclear technologies in the development of Africa, he said development issues "demand immediate solutions", to which nuclear technology "can fully respond". He added: "We are talking about solutions for increasing the level of education, ensuring energy security, and applying nuclear solutions to medicine, agriculture, and other scientific research and development. Every dollar invested in our projects in any country, brings two dollars in localisation to that country, he noted. “This significantly increases the country's GDP." According to Rosatom, a job is created for every 0.5MWe of nuclear-generated electricity so that a 1000MWe plant provides employment for more than 2000 people. Through joint educational programmes, applicants from African countries are being attracted to Rosatom’s partner universities in Russia, with 50 scholarships already awarded to students from Rwanda and Zambia along with hundreds more from Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.

Rwanda's infrastructure minister Claver Gatete said Rwanda sees a clear link between nuclear technologies and development. "To grow our industries from 17% GDP to 30% GDP, and to achieve our ambition of becoming a high-income country by 2050, we want to take advantage of nuclear to enhance our socio-economic development." 

Roland Msiska, head of the Zambia Atomic Energy Agency, pointed to the link between nuclear projects and long-term employment and development. "Most of our plans in Africa are short-term. You cannot do short-term planning in nuclear science. At a minimum, you are looking at a 60-year horizon. Such inter-generational long-term planning is essential for sustainable development," he said.

Addressing the economics, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that to ease the debt burden of African countries, Russia had already written off more than $20 billion. Rosatom is ready to create a nuclear industry for its African partners, on a turnkey basis, and construct research centres based on multipurpose reactors, he said. Rosatom is already building a 4800MWe nuclear plant with Egypt, working on nuclear cooperation and signing cooperation agreements with several African countries including Zambia, Ethiopia and Rwanda. 

A number of nuclear agreements were signed during the summit. On 24 October, Russia and Rwanda signed an agreement on the establishment of the Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology (CNST) in Rwanda with the participation of Rosatom. This follows a Russian-Rwandan intergovernmental agreement on nuclear cooperation signed in December 2018. The centre will provide a modern platform for research and practical application of nuclear technologies and will also produce radioisotopes for use in medicine, industry and agriculture. It will support the determination of the elemental composition of ores and minerals, environmental sampling, and training for the nuclear industry, as well as facilitating research in the field of digital technologies. The CNST will include a 10MWt multipurpose research light water research reactor equipped with systems, laboratories, equipment and functional complexes necessary for its safe operation.

The previous day, Russia and Ethiopia signed the intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the peaceful uses of atomic energy. The agreement will serve as a starting point for active dialogue on nuclear issues and will enable the start of specific cooperation projects. The document creates a legal basis for interaction in a wide range of areas, including:

  • assistance in the creation and improvement of Ethiopia's nuclear infrastructure in accordance with international recommendations;
  • regulation in the field of nuclear and radiation safety;
  • supervision of the physical protection of nuclear materials, radiation sources, storage facilities for nuclear materials and radioactive substances, as well as systems for accounting and control of nuclear materials, radioactive substances and radioactive waste;
  • fundamental and applied research in the field of the peaceful uses of atomic energy;
  • production of radioisotopes and their use in industry, medicine and agriculture;
  • cooperation in the application of radiation technologies, nuclear medicine; and education, training and retraining of specialists for the nuclear industry. 

The agreement provides for the formation of a joint coordination committee, the implementation of specific projects and scientific research, as well as the exchange of experts, the organisation of seminars and conferences, assistance in the education and training of scientific and technical personnel, the exchange of scientific and technical information, and the supply of equipment and materials and components. In the long term, it will lay the groundwork for the possible construction of a CNST in Ethiopia. The agreement followed a Memorandum of Understanding concluded between Rosatom and the Ministry of Innovation and Technology of Ethiopia in June 2017.

On 24 October, Putin invited the President of Namibia, Hague Gottfried Geingob, to establish cooperation in the production of uranium fuel, and also announced Russia's interest in other mineral and agricultural projects in Namibia. Putin said the development of uranium resources could be an important part of the interaction in the energy sector. "Russia, as the world leader in nuclear energy and nuclear fuel production, and Namibia, as the largest producer of uranium, could establish close cooperation and become good partners," he noted. The previous day, Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters that, in April, the Namibian authorities had extended the validity of licences of the Uranium One Group (a Rosatom subsidiary), enabling the resumption of uranium exploration in the Aranos region of Namibia. This would make it possible to resume exploration work “on the old and new areas of the uranium deposits in the Aranos basin”, he said. 

Also, during the summit, Rosatom signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the People's Friendship University of Russia to work on promoting Russian nuclear education abroad, mainly in African countries.