Africa: Growing Interest in Nuclear Power

//Africa: Growing Interest in Nuclear Power

Overview of Current Nuclear Energy Development in Africa:

Several African countries have announced their willingness to embark on nuclear programs and a few (Libya, Algeria, DRC, Morocco, Nigeria) have reactors that are used mainly for medical research. Some like Algeria, which had initially displayed a nuclear weapons ambition, gave up their projects and turned to civil application. This is also the case of South Africa, the only country currently having a nuclear power plant on the continent.

“Africa is hungry for energy and nuclear energy could be part of the solution for a growing number of countries.” Mikhail Chudakov, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy IAEA

One-third of the nearly 30 countries currently considering nuclear power are in Africa. Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Sudan have already engaged with the IAEA to assess their willingness to embark on a nuclear program. Algeria, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zambia are also considering the possibility of nuclear energy. The majority of those countries have been working with IAEA to assess and support them during this process. As a matter of facts, IAEA has sent many teams of experts to African countries to assess and diagnose the current situation within those countries, for such reasons IAEA has developed the milestones approach.

IAEA Milestones Approach

The Milestones approach gives detailed assessment across the three phases which nuclear newcomers would experience (Consider, Prepare, and Construct). In other words, it’s meant to assist countries wishing to get nuclear power through a series of processes to see the readiness of their nuclear power programme. It would take usually around 10-15 years from the initial consideration of the nuclear option to the nuclear plant being operational.

According to IAEA the aims is to help member States understand the commitments and obligations associated with developing a nuclear power programme. The milestones approach is divided into three phases which would be necessary to establish the infrastructure for the nuclear power programme. The three phases which are “Consideration”, “Preparatory works”, and “Activities to contract, license and construct” (more details in the graph below).

NPP Development Stages

The completion of each phase is marked by a specific milestone at which the progress of the development effort can be assessed and a decision can be made to move on to the next phase.

These milestones are:

  •  Milestone 1: Ready to make a knowledgeable commitment to a nuclear power programme;
  •  Milestone 2: Ready to invite bids/negotiate a contract for the first nuclear power plant;
  • Milestone 3: Ready to commission and operate the first nuclear power plant.

Nuclear Research Facilities:

Some of the African countries have already existing nuclear research facilities such as Algeria, DR of Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, and S. Africa. Research could be regarded as a good indicator for the nuclearisation of the countries as it offers the possibility to introduce scientists and students to several nuclear domains. More details about the capacity, type, and the nationality of the partner could be found in the table below.


Nuclear Energy Overview in Africa

South Africa Focus

South Africa is the only African country having an operating nuclear power plant in Koeberg. Initially, South Africa started developing a secret military program between 1982 and 1989 from which they built 6 atomic bombs before renouncing to the military program after the rise to power of ANC “African National Congress” (Nelson Mandela party), they ratified the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Energy Scene:

South Africa has a population of 54.8 million from which only 84.2% got access to electricity. In other words, 2.2 million South Africans are still in the dark, 66% of which in rural areas while urban areas have a 93% access. The current installed capacity is 51.309 MW as 87% comes from thermal (mainly coal), 8.8% from renewables and 5% generated by nuclear.

The Koeberg nuclear power plant started operating in 1984 (unit 1) and 1985 (unit 2) with a total capacity of 1800 MWe, it was built by Areva (Now Framatome) as a PWRs and have been operated since then by Eskom. High-level nuclear waste is kept within the power plant inside pools, while low and medium level wastes are stored in the Vaalputs site.

Jacob Zuma (Former S. African President) government was planning to build 6 additional nuclear reactors as they were counting on nuclear energy to reduce their dependency on coal. However, after his forced resignation, the new president Cyril Ramaphosa canceled all the nuclear plans and shifted toward renewables instead. Nuclear energy doesn’t seem to be the priority at the moment in South Africa but political landscape change rapidly in Africa and nuclear could come back on the table sooner than we think.

 Nigeria Focus

Nigeria is the biggest economy in the African continent and the most populous with 154 million. Nigeria is famous for oil and gas as they are the biggest African exporter; however, the electricity generation is extremely insufficient with only 59% of the population having access to electricity. Only 56% of the city’s population benefit from electricity while a staggering 64% of the rural Nigerian doesn’t have electricity. The government is having an ambitious target of providing universal access by 2030, to realize this objective a massive investment in the energy sector must be done; currently, they are eyeing renewables and nuclear to achieve this goal.

Nigeria current electricity generation capacity is about 8,300 MW, however, the peak the country ever reached is only 5,222 MW recorded in 18th December 2017. This situation is mainly due to the loss of power generation during the transmission phase to distribution companies which accounts for 16%. In other words, only 4,300MW gets to distribution companies, which is creating a crisis situation within the Nigerian’s electricity sector. Also, restricted output has been blamed on gas supply problems, water shortages, grid constraints, and breakdowns. According to Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Works, Power, and Housing, “Nigeria energy consumption in 2018 is mainly composed of gas-fired power (85%) and hydropower (15%)”. This shows how dependent Nigeria is on fossil fuels which are very polluting and subject to sabotage of the pipelines.

The necessity of renewables and nuclear is clearly obvious in the country’s energy mix, to cope with economic development and provide a reliable basis for Africa’s first economy. The intention of the government toward those energies have been stated already as Nigeria want to produce 30% of its energy from renewables by 2030. Same applies to nuclear energy as it’s regarded as a cheap, reliable, and stable alternative to fossil fuels.

According to the Chairman/CEO of the Nigerian Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC), Simon Pesco Mallam, “The country has concrete plans on erecting its first nuclear plant by mid-2020’s but is still putting logistics in place to make this a reality.” The Nigerian federal government has set a target of generating 4,800 MW from nuclear between 2025 and 2028. To reach that objective Nigeria already started the process to acquire nuclear technology, as they signed an agreement with ROSATOM (Russia) to build and operate a nuclear power plant as well as a Multipurpose Research Reactor Complex (MRRC) that would house a nuclear research reactor. MRRC could boost new technological industry platforms, agricultural export, regional investment climates, and jobs creation. ROSATOM will construct four nuclear power plants with a total capacity of 4,800 MW that will cost around $20 billion.

Nigeria has been cooperating with IAEA to assess its readiness for nuclear, as IAEA conducted in 2015 two missions to check the preparedness and compliance of Nigeria with its framework. Furthermore, another mission took place in July 2017, resulting in an optimistic assessment from the team. The potential sites chosen by the government to host the NPPs are Itu in Cross River and Geregu in Benue. The agreement with ROSATOM will be in form Build-Own-Operate (BOO) model, with the majority of equity coming from ROSATOM. Also, an agreement has been signed by Imo State’s government and the United States’ Barnett Holding Co to evaluate potential sites in Owerri for the deployment of 5-20 MW modular reactors.


With regards to building a competent nuclear workforce, the Nigerian Petroleum Technology Development Fund (NPTDF) disclosed to have received 27,474 applications from young Nigerians seeking financial support to study various nuclear technology-related curricula in Russia.

Kenya Focus

Kenya is the biggest and one of the most dynamic economies in East Africa region, with an annual growth rate of 4.9%. Kenya’s population is approximately 50 million. However, access to electricity in the country remains quite low with only 56% of population benefiting from electrification. Biomass mass constitute the main source of energy accounting for 68%, with wood fuel taking the lion’s share, comes after petroleum with 22%, and hydro with 9%. Not only are these methods are very polluting, but wood fuel increase deforestation of the region. In 2016, the electricity generation was 10 TWh, also Kenya import some of its supply from Ethiopia. For the reasons above, the Kenyan government have decided to adopt nuclear in the next decade. Kenya aims to have a nuclear power plant ready by 2027 of 1,000 MW and then quadruple that amount to reach 4,000 MW less than a decade later.

Kenyan nuclear ambitions are driven by the Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board (KNEB), which is expanding international partnerships to benefit from nuclear expertise and experience in site selection and feasibility studies. Countries like South Korea, France and China have rushed to Nairobi to offer their know-how in the exploitation of nuclear power.

We have already signed agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Chinese government to accelerate the development of nuclear power in Kenya. However, due to new challenges such as the need to put in place the necessary infrastructure, the power plant cannot be operational until after 2027. ” Collins Juma, CEO of KNEB

The project is estimated to cost $9 billion and “Kenya Electricity Generation Company” (KenGen) will take charge of operating the NPP. KNEB has selected potential sites for the nuclear plant in areas near Lake Victoria, Lake Turkana, and the Indian Ocean. A team from IAEA have visited the locations in December 2018 as stated by Collins Juma “The IAEA mission is currently in Nairobi taking people to the sites which we have identified. This is why we are here with KenGen’s Managing Director (Rebecca Miano) who will be the operator of the plant.” KNEB signed a agreement with CGN (China General Nuclear) to investigate building a Hualong one reactor in Kenya.

According to KNEB “obtain expertise from China by way of training and skills development, technical support in areas such as site selection for Kenya’s nuclear power plants and feasibility studies.” Another agreement with CGN was signed in 2017. KNEB also signed agreement with ROSATOM (Russia) and KEPCO (Korea). The ROSATOM agreement goes beyond construction of NPP and covers among other things training, education and waste management, as Dmitry Shornikov (ROSATOM’s Central and Southern African CEO) said “The MoU created a basis for us to cooperate in a wide area of nuclear applications, including but not limited to; assistance in development of Kenyan nuclear energy infrastructure, fundamental and applied research, design, construction and operation of nuclear facilities, production and use of radioisotopes for nuclear medicine, industry and agriculture, handling of radioactive waste as well as training and preparation of specialists in the field of nuclear.”


Egypt Focus

The most populous country in the MENA region with a population of 97.5 million, Egypt population is growing fast and with it the energy needs. Egypt’s energy mix is constitute mainly from Natural Gas (72%), Oil (20%), Hydro (7%), and only 1% from renewables in 2017. Nevertheless, in 2008 the government set a target to reach 20% from renewable by 2020 including hydropower as well. The total electricity production is about 172 TWh with a 100% access to electricity. Egypt have seen lately a high level of urbanization and industrialization accompanied by an improvement in the standard of living. In addition to the country commitment to reduce its greenhouse emissions.

Nuclear energy has been perceived by the Egyptian government as the solution. So, between 1999 and 2001, Nuclear Power Plants Authority (NPPA) has performed with the assistance of IAEA a pre-feasibility study for a NPP. Egypt was ambitioning for the construction of a NPP in the 70’s, however, after Chernobyl incident the project was halted till 2007 when the Mubarak’s government restarted nuclear projects.

The Egyptian project is the most developed so far in Africa excluding the already existing South African NPP. ROSATOM will take charge of the construction, training, fuel and maintenance of the new power plant in Al-Dabaa (west of Alexandria). The plant will consist of 4 reactors with a capacity of 1,200 MW each. The estimated cost is about $30 Billion. Egypt secured a loan from Russia worth $25 billion which would finance 85% of the value of each work contract, services and equipment shipping. It will be paid over 22 years at 3% rate, however, Egypt will start paying the loan after the first reactor will begin working. The nuclear power plant will have a total capacity of 4.8GW, this plant is expected to account for up to 50 % of Egypt’s power, powering up 4 million homes and it expected to create 50,000 jobs.

International firms are taking advantage from the Egyptian nuclear ambition, For instance, GE has won a contract to supply turbine island equipment and services to Al-Dabaa plant while ROSATOM will supply four nuclear turbine, the basic design of four conventional islands, supply four nuclear turbine generator sets, including the Arabelle half-speed steam turbines, as well as provide technical expertise for the on-site installation and commissioning. On the other hand, Assystem will assist ROSATOM’s subsidiary to obtain the necessary licenses and permits in order to build the NPP. Apart from Russia, Egypt have agreement with South Korea and China. In 2015, Nuclear Power Plants Authority (NPPA) and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) signed an agreement to enhance nuclear cooperation and to “become an official partner” in the country’s nuclear project.

 Sudan Focus

Sudan’s electricity production in 2016 accounted for 14 TWh with a growing population (approx. 40 million). Sudan is seeking to rapidly introduce nuclear energy to the country. They have started the process toward nuclearisation, Sudan has already enacted a comprehensive nuclear law and established a nuclear regulatory authority. Furthermore, a team from IAEA has spent 8 days mission in 2018 reviewing Sudanese nuclear power infrastructure development. The team comprised expert from Morocco, Slovenia, South Africa, and Spain as well as IAEA staff. It reviewed the status of 19 nuclear power programme infrastructure issues using the IAEA Nuclear Energy Series Evaluation of the Status of National Infrastructure Development. After the visit, the INIR (Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review) team concluded the readiness of the country to make a knowledgeable commitment to a nuclear power programme. Anthony Tott the team leader stated: “We had good discussions during the mission which provided additional information to the team for each of the 19 infrastructure issues that are addressed during an INIR mission… It is evident that there is a strong commitment from the government of Sudan to developing the infrastructure needed for a safe, secure and peaceful nuclear power programme.

Sudan announced it had plans to build a four-reactor nuclear power plant to fill the gap in power generation by 2030. In 2016 a framework agreement was signed with China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to build one or two 600 MWe NPP, and formulation of a nuclear cooperation roadmap for next ten years. Also, they have signed an agreement with Russia to build their first NPP starting from mid-2019. Russia has agreed to supply Sudan with a small-capacity floating nuclear plant to produce electricity. As Sudan is the only country until now interested in a floating nuclear power plant. According to the Sudan Tribune, the minister of water resources and electricity has shown interest of the country to become the first foreign customer. “The sides welcomed the signing of an action plan … providing for the preparation of a preliminary feasibility study for the project of a floating nuclear power plant in the Republic of Sudan, signed during the Russian-Sudanese seminar on November 20, 2018 in Khartoum.

 Morocco Focus

Morocco generated 32 TWh in 2016, 81% of it comes from fossil fuels, 15% from renewables and 4% from hydro. The country rely heavily on import as it have limited local energy resources. The country is planning to build two 1,000 MW reactors near Safi on the Atlantic Ocean as Atomstoryexport (ROSATOM subsidiary) assisted with feasibility studies. Also, the government have signed cooperation agreement with France to develop nuclear. Morocco dispose of large amounts of uranium in its phosphates (Phosphates largest reserves in the world), further exploration are undergoing to find uranium in Morocco.


Ghana Focus

Ghana generated 13 TWh, 54% from fossil fuel and 46% from hydro. For Ghana, reliable and cost-effective electricity is the entry point to high value-added growth in the manufacturing and export-oriented sector. For example, bauxite reserves – the ore used to produce aluminum – are an important source of income, but are still exported in raw forms.

We have a foundry, but it does not run at full capacity because electricity is too expensive …If we had profitable electricity, we would be exporting melted bauxite at a much higher price. This would be a big step forward for Ghana.

Nii Allotey, Director of the Nuclear Power Institute Ghana Atomic Energy Commission.

This situation applies to the majority of African countries which have plenty of natural resources but due to the lack of reliable and cheap energy they export it as raw material (much lower profit). The Ghanaian government has great ambitions. They want to triple the country’s electricity production in 15 years, mainly through nuclear power. In 2015, Ghana signed an agreement with ROSATOM to develop the nuclear infrastructure in the country. Also, Ghana showed interested in Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) as they are aiming for a capacity if 700MW which could be provided through SMRs.

Other African countries are interested in the nuclear energy and some have already signed agreement with international partners such as Rwanda, Zambia and Tanzania cooperation with Russia, while, Namibia and Uganda did it with China.


The biggest challenge facing the feasibility of nuclear energy in Africa isn’t financing or ecological issues, but the lack of adequate infrastructure. Some prerequisites concerning infrastructures need to be met before a nuclear power plant start operating. One of those is grid power capacity as IAEA recommend that the capacity of the current network to be 10 times higher than the future nuclear power plant. For instance, a country should have a capacity of 10,000 MW to generate 1,000 MW from nuclear energy. However, few countries in Africa can meet that requirement at the moment which will considerably postpone the plans of some African countries to acquire a power plant. Nevertheless, many options to remedy to the situation are available.

First, joining a regional grid as a result of cooperation between limitrophe states. It a difficult process that requires strong ties between the regional countries, but it possible as some economical communities are already in place such as “East African Community” or “ECOWAS/CEDEAO” which offers a good basis to start with. Second, Small modular reactors (SMRs) are a viable alternative, SMRs can generate up to 300 MW per unit and their main component can be factory-built and transported to sites for ease of construction. However, many newcomers are reluctant to SMRs as it’s a new technology that have not been operating yet, and they feel like SMRs would be experimented on them, as Richard Ndubai (Kenya’s former National Youth Service director) stated “If SMRs are an opportunity for us, we would like them to be built and tested elsewhere before introducing them into our country.” SMRs are expected to start operating between 2018-2020 in China, Argentina and Russia, that would obviously mitigate the uncertainty concerning it. Third, Floating power plant is another option as Russia started building such technology which takes only 4 years to build while a conventional NPP would require at least 10 years. According to Sudan Tribune, Sudan have a deal with Russia to become the first (beside Russia) to have a floating nuclear power plant.

In regards to financing as stated by Milko Kovachev (Head of Nuclear Infrastructure Development at the IAEA) “Most African countries will struggle to invest in a nuclear energy project…But there are financing mechanisms, such as the export agencies of the supplier countries. Leveraging a reliable, carbon-free energy supply when suppliers offer to finance it can make sense for many African countries.” The Egyptian project (mentioned above) is a perfect example to how the financing could be done.

Some areas of uncertainty on the African continent remains at doubt such as Safety, Public Acceptance, Political Stability, and Corruption. Based on IAEA database, between 1993 and 2013, 2477 incidents were reported. The main concern is terrorist organizations bribing officials and experts. According to Wikileaks, Al-Qaeda had plans to procure nuclear material and recruit unscrupulous scientists to develop “dirty bombs”. The 2013 attack on the Somair uranium mine in Niger or the 2016 surveillance by ISIS to a senior Belgian nuclear official are examples of terrorist groups’ intention.

Opportunities and Why Russia and China are ahead of USA

Africa is the last virgin continent (apart from S. Africa) for new nuclear energy. Which mean that opportunities are huge for new builds and in general for the whole nuclear ecosystem as we noticed a sample of the wide range of companies gaining from the Egyptian deal (Egypt section above). The majority of ongoing nuclear deals and agreement in Africa are held by Russia, China, and in some regards France. Interestingly, historically, diplomatic ties tends to lean toward France, USA, and Britain. How could we explain such a trend?

Russia and China offensive on the African nuclear sector could be explained through the advantages proposed to those countries. First, the financing as majority of the countries are not very rich and do not have large liquid funds available. The Russian and Chinese are proposing attractive loans ranging from 49-90% of the total cost, and repayment would only commence from the start of NPP operation. Also, the Russian “Build-Own-Operate” model such as the one in the Turkish NPP, seems attractive to many African countries. The principle is simple, Russia will maintains ownership of the plant and makes a profit by selling electricity to the host country. However, Western expert have accused Russia of trying to create energy dependency and use it to pressure the countries to adhere to its demands as they are doing with gas supply to Europe.

Second, China and Russia are less strict on the uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing compared to USA, which provides an edge to the two superpowers of the east. However, some critics claims that this situation would provide the ability for some countries to develop nuclear weapons secretly through reprocessing.

Lastly, a huge advantage the Russians are providing to its African partners is the possibility to take back spent fuel from foreign reactors. This a crucial point as many countries of the region do not possess permanent waste-storage infrastructure.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, nuclear will enjoy a renaissance through Africa and Asia while many western countries are reluctant to expand their nuclear energy programs. Dozens of African countries are eyeing nuclear to help them solve their energy insufficiency. The road is long and nuclear process could take from 10 to 15 years, but the political will is there and the nations mentioned above are already engaged somehow in the process.

The competition is fierce between nuclear international players over the African market

At the moment Russian and Chinese have the lion’s share but the opportunity is still there for western countries and South Korea to enter the market, if they move fast and are willing to adapt and meet the needs of their African counterparts


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By |2020-01-02T01:25:24+08:00January 2nd, 2020|industry-insights|0 Comments