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Will nuclear power light up Africa’s darkest corners?

Will nuclear power light up Africa’s darkest corners? Ten African countries are pursuing nuclear energy programmes. Guinea this month signed a deal for a floating nuclear plant

Hello – we’d like to make a case for including nuclear energy in Africa’s green economy. 

Admittedly, it’s controversial. Many doubts swirl around. We know we’re being provocative.

But if we’re serious about no-carbon energy, all solutions should be considered.

In any case – nuclear is on the continent already as an addition to renewables.

Climate action can no longer ignore the subject. The key is getting it right. 

We ask: Where is nuclear energy suitable and which kind?

Today’s reading time: 4 mins

LOGISTICS UPDATE | Thursday 27 June


📆 Kenya hosts Agritech trade show & conference (July 2)

📆 Egypt hosts Green Energy & Technology summit (July 11)

📆 Nigeria hosts Natural Resources & Energy event (July 16)


💼 UNDP seeks an administrative & finance assistant (Angola)

💼 The World Bank is looking for a lead energy specialist (Niger)

💼 Charging infra project manager vacancy at BasiGo (Rwanda)

1.🚁 Heli view: When nuclear is part of the answer to African climate questions

Guinea and Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation this month signed a deal to deploy a floating nuclear power plant off the coast of West Africa. Is that crazy?

Anyone on the continent who rejects nuclear energy out of hand should recall two facts: 

  • At least 80% of the world’s off-grid population lives in Africa.

  • Only 24% of the continent’s total energy output currently comes from renewables.

The crux: Africa needs many more clean energy sources to serve growing demand while meeting its net-zero emissions target by 2050. 

  • Solar and wind power are intermittent, depending on weather.

  • Hydro is effective but limited to regions with large water sources.

  • Nuclear produces stable and clean energy as a matter of course.

Clocking on: That explains why at least ten African nations are getting involved.

  • South Africa has had nuclear energy for decades. It is now adding 2,500 MW to its existing 1,700 MW Koeberg plant.

  • Egypt is building four reactors, each with 1,200 MW. 

  • Nigeria is set to build a 4,000 MW plant. 

  • Uganda and Rwanda have deals for construction.

  • Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania and Morocco are holding talks with suppliers. 

Status quo: Globally, almost 500 reactors in over 30 countries generate about 10% of our electricity, trumping all sources except hydro in terms of clean power.

  • Africa’s nuclear capacity will increase 58% by 2030 and tenfold by 2050.

  • The question is – what will it cost?

Economics: To compare sources, the industry calculates the “Levelised Cost of Energy” (LCOE). It’s a measure of the average net present cost over a source’s lifetime.

  • Nuclear energy is not cheap at around $0.1 / kWh.

  • However, this is based on relatively few large reactors built in the past two decades.

  • New smaller reactors could be up to 30% more affordable. 

Comparison: Costwise, nuclear sits in the middle of the spectrum (see chart above). 

  • South Africa’s Koeberg nuclear plant generates 5% of the country’s electricity and has the lowest cost of energy in the country. 

Directional change: Solar and other renewable technologies have become cheaper over the past decade. And so has nuclear – operating costs are down 26.5% since 2012.

Step change: The nuclear energy sector is in the middle of a transformation, turning away from large and expensive but exceedingly powerful plants. 

  • They output over 1,000 MW and can produce 24,000 MWh per day.

  • They’re not only expensive but pose greater risks in case of an accident.

Modern take: Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are deemed the future of nuclear energy. They are more suitable for low-middle income countries with limited electric grids.

  • SMRs can range from less than 10 MW up to 300 MW.

  • They require smaller upfront investments but are less efficient. 

First mover: Rwanda is evaluating various SMR models and sites with a view to installing two SMRs.

  • South Africa is conducting SMR research while building a large-scale plant.

  • Other African contenders still mainly focus on large reactors.

The money: All nuclear energy requires big investments, which few countries can afford.

  • Russia and China are offering funding for eight African nuclear projects.

  • The US is providing some funding for a Ghanaian SMR project.

  • Geopolitics is rarely far when it comes to the nuclear industry.

Stability concerns: Nuclear plants have long triggered popular pushback. Nigeria has been declared a “nation in conflict” by the World Bank, raising safety questions.

  • In response, some suppliers have offered to remove nuclear waste. 

  • That still leaves concerns over accidents and proliferation.

What’s needed: Worldwide, nuclear energy is one of the most regulated industries. African nations need to put fundamentals in place to progress safely. That means:

  • Creating regulatory frameworks 

  • Developing human resources 

  • Creating more grid infrastructure

  • Setting up regional cooperation 

Key question: How will nuclear fit into the energy mix? As shown by renewables, Africa does well with distributed power sources. That suggests small modular reactors. 

  • SMRs don’t require enormous grids to deliver centralised baseloads.

  • They are built using less capital and are less complex to run.

  • They can be plugged in locally to support dense urban or industrial areas. 

Bottom line: Nuclear is an option but no panacea. Key is picking the right technology. Nobody is suggesting a move away from renewables. But nor should the perfect be the enemy of the good. If the climate is in crisis, innovation and pragmatism are needed.

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