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Uganda in talks with atomic energy agency to develop nuclear plant

Tuesday May 14 2024
powerdeal

Cooling towers of atomic power plant. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

By JULIUS BARIGABA

Uganda and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have started the second review in two years of the country’s uranium programme, which is expected to give way to the exploration phase and nuclear energy production in the next seven years.

Amid funding hurdles for exploration and construction of plants, Uganda targets 24,000MW from nuclear energy, which would account for nearly half of its total energy mix of 52,481MW by 2040, with grid access of 80 percent, as approved by Cabinet last year.

Nuclear scientists from the Vienna-based IAEA are in Kampala to conduct the review, to assess Uganda’s preparedness and the capacity of its uranium sites and institutions, but also to scrutinise the legal regime, safety benchmarks, environmental protection and infrastructure development.

Adrienne Hanly, Technical Lead-Uranium Reserves and Production at the IAEA, said that at the end of the talks in 10 days, the agency will provide “an objective assessment of Uganda’s capacity that also includes status of information, structure for production, mining and processing of uranium.”

Read: Russia, S.Korea to build nuclear power plants in Uganda

Uganda is yet to quantify the capacity of its deposits in all the sites the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development has identified for uranium production and nuclear energy.

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The Permanent Secretary in the ministry Irene Batebe says the country will require significant quantitates of uranium per year to produce 24,000MW.

Batebe said the government is amending the Atomic Energy Act, 2008 to strengthen the legal framework for exploration, mining and processing of nuclear fuel resources.

She said the country's electricity generation potential from hydro, biomass, geothermal and peat, even if fully developed, cannot meet the Uganda Vision 2040 targets.

"To meet our development targets, nuclear energy among other sources must be integrated in the electricity generation mix," she said.

In April 2023, the Cabinet adopted the Energy Policy for Uganda, 2023 which envisages development of 52,481 MW generation capacity in the long term to meet the future demand, of which 24,000 MW will be nuclear power.

“We have started an aggressive programme to quantify the capacity of our deposits because we require 4,000 tonnes of uranium per year,” Ms Batebe said. “You are in a country where the existence of uranium is not farfetched.”

Emmanuel Wamala, assistant commissioner Nuclear Fuel and Radioactive Waste, said that the Ministry of Energy has approved a five-year project that will quantify Uganda’s uranium, but questions remain if this effort will conclude in time to feed the country’s first plant.
“For the first plant, we will use uranium from other sources as we develop our own,” Mr Wamala said.

Ms Batebe says Uganda has progressed in its nuclear energy journey since the last IAEA review mission to Kampala in 2022, which tasked the government to have in place a robust law and address aspects of capacity, including training of experts to support uranium exploitation and nuclear energy production.

Uganda anchors its nuclear energy programme on the Atomic Energy Act, 2008 – for which an amendment to cater for nuclear safety is being prepared for tabling before Cabinet – and the Minerals and Mining Act of 2022, which provides for uranium exploitation.

However, other energy experts attending the review at Speke Resort Munyonyo argued that even with all the above in place – size of deposits, legal regime, environmental and safety benchmarks – the biggest test of Uganda’s preparedness is funding to get the first nuclear plant firing.

“Let’s talk things that are realistic,” said Fred Tugume, Commissioner for Energy and Minerals. “If you have spent the last four years fighting with [the Ministry of] Finance to get little money just to quantify the deposits, where are you going to get money to build this plant?”

Last year, the government signed a memorandum of understanding with Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Company Ltd to build the country’s first nuclear facility, a 2,000MW plant in Buyende, eastern Uganda, estimated to cost $9 billion, according the Energy ministery.

Uganda also plans nuclear power due to environmental concerns as “this is the lowest carbon emission source which must remain on the table to be discussed” Ms Batebe said.

As of January 2021, there was 442 commercial nuclear reactors worldwide, requiring about 60,100 tonnes of uranium annually.

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