POWER PRODUCTION

The allure of Nuclear Energy

In Summary

•Nuclear power has long been lauded as critical in the African continent’s search of energy security

A view of the nuclear power plant in Doel,Belgium on February 6, 2012
A view of the nuclear power plant in Doel,Belgium on February 6, 2012
Image: FILE

The inaugural Russia – Africa Summit, held in Sochi, Russia between 23rd October – 24th October, sought to herald a new chapter in Africa’s trade ties with the Eastern European giant.

Touted as a charm offensive by the Russian government, keen to increase its geopolitical influence  Africa, the summit saw in excess of 50 African leaders, and a combined delegation of over 3,000 from the continent and Russia alike converge at the Black Sea Resort in Sochi. Hot on the agenda were partnerships and coordination efforts with respect to energy and natural resources.

On matters energy, the Russian government has made significant strides toward the conclusion of investment agreements with various African countries, including Kenya, keen to develop nuclear power.

Indeed, nuclear power has long been lauded as critical in the African continent’s search of energy security. However, as is the case in matters energy, vocal critics of nuclear power warn that Africa’s search  may be misguided, highlighting the numerous risks associated with nuclear power, together with the high capital costs.

Despite criticisms levied against it, nuclear power has proven itself to be a highly reliable source of base power. Given the high energy density of nuclear power, small quantities of the same have the capability of providing power to millions of people and industry alike for long periods of time, with one nuclear power plant capable of providing consistent power output for up to 60 years.

Additionally, while often associated with high capital costs, it is necessary to note that operational and maintenance costs with respect to nuclear power are relatively low. Similarly, technological advancements in recent years have served to bring down the initial capital investment required to set-up a nuclear power plant, with nuclear reactors becoming smaller, safer and more efficient.

 

With the above in mind, numerous African countries are exploring nuclear power as an option in their domestic energy mix. With the promise of providing consistent, stable and reliable power supply for long periods of time, nuclear power is specifically being sought for its role in providing base load power.

The benefits of nuclear power aside, however, cost implications remain prohibitive for most African countries. With capital investment costs running into the billions (USD), nuclear power appears largely out of reach of many African countries.

However, willing partnerships with nuclear producers, such as the Russian nuclear giant, Rosatom, provide an opportunity to consider innovative financing arrangements such as Build Own Operate schemes. Similarly, emerging technologies such as small modular reactors (SMRs) promise to significantly reduce of costs of attaining nuclear power through the use of smaller reactors that may be more attune to smaller national grid systems within the African content.

Karen Kandie – MD, IDB Capital