Nuclear 'gaining traction' as option in many African countries, says IAEA

29 September 2022

Discussions with ministers from several African countries have been held at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference about nuclear power's potential role in helping economic development and water supply while also mitigating climate change as it provides clean and reliable energy.

The events were held at the IAEA General Conference in Vienna (Image: IAEA)

The Supporting the Energy Transition in Africa event came as the latest edition of the IAEA's Climate Change and Nuclear Power report was published, featuring a chapter specifically focusing on nuclear power in Africa.

It says that "the emergence of large clean energy projects in the Middle East and North Africa region, including some landmark nuclear projects, is driving energy transformations in the region" but "unreliable electricity supply in sub-Saharan Africa is an impediment to economic development and employment and financial aid is critical to support the development of large infrastructure programmes, including nuclear projects".

The report says: "Nuclear energy is gaining traction among the leaders of many African and Middle Eastern countries. In response to the climate emergency and other great challenges faced by this continent, such as those associated with economic stimulation and poverty alleviation, multiple Middle Eastern and African countries are increasingly integrating nuclear solutions in their economic, social and environmental strategies, as shown by the number of requests from IAEA Member States for Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Reviews (INIR).

"This assistance programme, based on the IAEA Milestones Approach, is a holistic peer review of the national infrastructure needed for nuclear power, including the national policies, the legal and regulatory regimes, human resources, electrical grid infrastructure, suitable sites and supporting infrastructure. Out of the 34 INIR missions conducted in 24 Member States between 2009 and 2022, 9 of the INIR main missions and 2 follow-up missions were requested by African countries."

The report says that 600 million people in Africa have no reliable source of electricity, with the World Bank reporting that in sub-Saharan Africa 80% of businesses suffer from power outages. It also notes that the demand for energy in Africa is growing twice as fast as the global average.

Egypt recently started construction of its first nuclear power plant - it plans four 1200 MWe reactors at El-Dabaa. “Egypt opted for nuclear power because it provides a steady source of energy that lasts for decades,” said Mohamed H. El Molla, Egypt’s Resident Representative to the IAEA.

South Africa, the only existing nuclear operator on the continent is considering long-term operation of the Koeberg nuclear power plant as well as expanding its nuclear power programme. Ghana hosted an IAEA-led Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review mission in 2017 and Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation Kwaku Afriyie said: "Ghana is looking to introduce nuclear power to provide the necessary diversity of baseload to ensure energy security for our future demands."

At the event, IAEA director general Rafael Mariano Grossi said that African countries considering nuclear power solutions could be assured "the IAEA will be with you every step of the way".

He said: "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. 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.’"

Henri Paillere, head of the IAEA's planning and economic studies section said that international financing would be vital, especially for African countries who have seen their public finances worsen during the COVID-19 pandemic, making it hard for them to finance large infrastructure projects.

“Establishing special economic zones with tailored economic regulations built around local, reliable infrastructure would be one way to attract foreign investment. Such zones could then serve as clean energy hubs that would benefit surrounding communities and act as a catalyst for energy transitions on a national scale,” he said.

Nuclear techniques help agriculture

A separate event, Enhancing Capacities of Member States in Africa to Achieve Food Security Through the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Techniques  featured a panel discussion with experts from Germany, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia and the African Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training related to Nuclear Science and Technology (AFRA Agreement) about how nuclear science and technology help agricultural production, protect soil and water resources, ensure the safety and quality of food, and facilitate export and trade of agricultural produce.

The meeting heard that the IAEA currently works with 47 African countries to increase agricultural productivity and food security as well as providing training and advising on reducing CO2 emissions.

Examples given of where nuclear and related techniques were helping in the agricultural sector included in Uganda where plant mutation breeding was used to tackle brown streak disease which endangers the root vegetable cassava. In Nigeria, drip irrigation systems have almost halved water use for farmers while increasing yields of watermelons, cucumbers and okra. In Ghana, nuclear-derived techniques were able "to swiftly diagnose and assist" in containing bird flu in 2018.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News