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Eye on nuclear energy: Does Africa have capacity to handle risky reactors?

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Boosted by the abundance of uranium and a rising energy deficit, a number of African countries are keen on tapping into nuclear power. Photo/Graphic/TEA

Boosted by the abundance of uranium and a rising energy deficit, a number of African countries are keen on tapping into nuclear power. Photo/Graphic/TEA  Nation Media Group

By NYAMBEGA GISESA Special Correspondent

Posted  Saturday, November 24   2012 at  15:02

In Summary

  • As Africa’s population rises, a number of countries are eyeing nuclear power to meet their increased need for energy; however, questions abound on whether the continent has the capacity to handle risky reactors.
  • By last year, at least 10 African countries had expressed interest in becoming the continent’s next nuclear powers.
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The nuclear disaster that struck Japan last year following a devastating tsunami is still fresh in the world’s memory, but this is not stopping African countries from aspiring to tap into this form of energy.

But the fact that Japan, which is far more developed than any country in Africa was left in a nuclear mess after the tsunami struck several reactors, raises questions on whether the world’s poorest continent has the capacity and expertise to handle such risks.

Yet Africa, which is faced with an energy deficit, is keen on finding new sources.

Speakers at a recent meeting dubbed “Stakeholder Involvement and Public Communication for New and Expanding Nuclear Power Countries in Africa,” held in Nairobi between November 5 and 8, spoke of a continent that has realised the importance of nuclear energy.

By last year, at least 10 African countries had expressed interest in becoming the continent’s next nuclear powers.

“Have you heard of any country that has moved from a developing to a developed nation by using solar power?,” asked Collins Juma, Kenya’s nuclear power project technical affairs director.

Energy gap

Allan Bonner, a nuclear consultant for the Kenyan government, said there was a need to find ways to seal the energy gap on the continent and to industrialise.

“Many African countries are eyeing nuclear power to meet increased demand for energy as populations rise,” said Dr Bonner.

Their sentiments are supported by scientists who say new, smaller and more flexible nuclear technologies can benefit developing countries.

Advocates of nuclear power see it as a “silver bullet,” that can help Africa become industrialised.

World’s reactors

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) there were 437 nuclear units in operation in the world as of October 19, while 64 were under construction.

In the European Union, 15 of 27 member states have nuclear power plants with a total of 132 producing around 30 per cent of the electricity in the region. 

Currently, two reactors are under construction in Slovakia and one each in Finland and France.

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