The Koeberg nuclear plant is currently the only one in Africa, but 11 countries have plans to roll out their own nuclear power programmes over the course of the next 14 years, with Russia eager to get involved in their construction. Picture: Henk Kruger

Johannesburg - Eleven African countries are considering building nuclear power plants over the next 14 years to overcome the continent’s electricity shortage.

Outside of South Africa, the entire installed generation capacity of sub-Saharan Africa was just 28 gigawatts – equivalent to that of Argentina – Anton Khlopkov, the director of the Centre for Energy and Security Studies in Moscow, said at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria last week in a seminar about prospects for Russian nuclear co-operation with Africa.

Read: SA wants six new nuclear power plants

Khlopkov said that only 24 percent of the sub-Saharan African population had access to electricity and even where there was electricity, it was unreliable.

He said African manufacturing enterprises experienced power outages on an average of 56 days a year.

“As a result, firms lose 6 percent of sales revenue. Where back-up generation is limited, losses can be as high as 20 percent,” said Khlopkov, adding that electricity tariffs were also high with tariffs of 13 US cents (R1.94) per kilowatt hour in the region compared to only 4 to 8 US cents in most developing countries.

He said in countries that relied on diesel generators, tariffs were even higher as many firms operated their own diesel generators which increased electricity costs two to three times as a result of poor reliability of supply.

Changing attitudes

Khlopkov said that before the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan five years ago, more than 60 countries worldwide were considering constructing nuclear power plants.

He said that more than 45 countries were still actively considering embarking on nuclear power programmes with Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Tunisia and Uganda leading the nuclear charge so far.

Only South Africa was producing nuclear power, with its two reactors at Koeberg contributing 5 percent of the country’s energy mix but there were also five nuclear research reactors in Africa – two in Algeria and one each in Egypt, Morocco and South Africa.

There were also two other nuclear research installations, in Nigeria and Libya.

Four African countries also produced uranium – Malawi, Namibia, Niger and South Africa – contributing 15 percent of the world’s total production in 2014.

Among the biggest ambitions for constructing nuclear power plants were Algeria’s plans to build two reactors to produce 2 400 megawatts by 2030; Egypt’s to build four reactors, producing 4 800MW by 2030, Ghana’s to build one reactor producing 1 000MW by 2025, Kenya’s plans to build four reactors producing 4 000MW by 2033, Morocco’s to build its first reactor by 2030, Nigeria’s plans to build four reactors, producing 4 000MW by 2027 and South Africa’s to add six to eight new reactors, producing an extra 9 600MW by 2030.

Khlopkov said Russia was the biggest exporter of nuclear technology in the world, constructing 25 percent of nuclear power plants currently, converting 25 percent and enriching 45 percent of uranium, providing 17 percent of nuclear fuel and reprocessing 10 percent of spent nuclear fuel.

Russian ambitions

The export sales of the state nuclear corporation Rosatom last year were $6.4 billion and its foreign orders up to 2030 totalled $110bn.

In Africa, Russia was currently operating the Mkuju River uranium mine development project in Tanzania, was supplying about 40 percent of the uranium fuel for South Africa’s Koeberg reactors and was conducting negotiations for building nuclear power plants with South Africa, Algeria, Egypt and Morocco.

Experts at the seminar who could not be quoted, estimated that only 25 percent of the nuclear power plants African countries were planning would be built by 2030. That was about the global average.

The experts predicted that at least two of the six to eight nuclear power plants that South Africa envisaged, would be among those built by 2030 – but only if public opinion did not turn against the nuclear plans and the security situation in the country did not deteriorate.