Rwanda is going ahead with plans to set up a nuclear power plant, which the government says is needed to bridge supply gaps as the country targets middle income status in 14 years.
It is still unclear how much Kigali will invest in the two-phase project — with Rosatom Global, a Russian government nuclear parastatal — expected to see energy supply ramped up to more than 10,000 megawatts by 2035.
Rosatom Global and Kigali signed an inter-government agreement in 2018.
“We plan to sign the contract for the feasibility studies by the end of this year, preferably by November. One for the centre will last for eight to nine months, then the nuclear power plant feasibility study will follow using some elements of the information that will have been gathered.
“The studies will determine when we start, where the facilities will be located and cost estimates,” said Fidele Ndahayo, chief executive of the newly created Rwanda Atomic Energy Board.
The contracts to be signed with Rostam are for both the Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology and the nuclear power installations.
A Cabinet meeting chaired by President Paul Kagame on October 13 appointed a seven-member board to the non-commercial state agency created in December 2020. Its mission to promote “peaceful use of nuclear power for sustainable socio-economic development”.
President Kagame appointed Lassina Zerbo, a Burkinabe national from the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation, as the agency board chairperson, and Princess Sumaya bint Hassan, a renowned Jordanian scientist.
While most details of the project including locations and costs estimates will be informed by the yet-to-be commissioned feasibility studies, Mr Ndahayo said the country had chosen to adopt the Small Modular Reactors technology for safety reasons, and was closely working with the International Atomic Energy body to fulfill all requirements to operate a nuclear facility.
“Nuclear is a highly regulated sector. First the technology we intend to implement is the newest technology and is the safest one because it is small in size and it does not require a lot of land,” Mr Ndahayo said.
“In the beginning we intend to start with two that can produce around 100 megawatts. Our electrical grid cannot support bigger nuclear power, and the damages in terms of accidents are proportional to the size of the power plant,” he added.
Rwanda’s opposition Green Party had in 2019 unsuccessfully opposed the Nuclear Energy Bill, citing the cost and the potential harm of a nuclear plant in the country.
“Living near a nuclear energy plant is like living near a nuclear bomb that can explode and cause destruction of life and property to the nation and its neighbouring countries. Considering the high population density of Rwanda, there is no place where the plant can be built and the safety of Rwandans and neighbours will be at great risk,” said Frank Habineza, Rwanda Greens president.
So far the officials say 100 nationals are pursuing studies in nuclear science technology applications in Russia and South Korea.