Tunisia is seriously considering the introduction of nuclear energy in the country. The country has been facing a continuous energy deficit since 2001. National resources are limited and fossil resources are declining. The dwindling production at Tunisia’s oil fields and the surge in hydrocarbon prices has resulted in the country spending heavily on energy imports to power its electricity network. In addition, the forecasted demand on electricity is expected to double between 2013 and 2031 in Tunisia.
Tunisia is located in North Africa, in the Maghreb region, with a population of 11.7 million and a GDP of $44.2 billion. The current rate of electrification is 99% with a total electricity capacity of 5000 MW in 2015 including 250 MW from wind turbines. The country currently has grid connections with Algeria and Libya and in the near future with Italy.
Steps towards the first NPP in Tunisia
A technical and economic feasibility study for the construction of a Research Reactor was carried out in 2000 in collaboration with IAEA and France. However, no decision was taken to proceed. Previous preliminary economical studies showed that nuclear power plants could be economically competitive for electricity production.
In 2006, the utility Tunisian Company of Electricity and Gas (STEG) was asked by the government to conduct, in collaboration with the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, a technical-economical feasibility study for NPP implementation. The study showed that it was very important to consider the nuclear energy option in regard to the limited fossil resources in Tunisia and to increase the energy mix in the country.
STEG has been earmarked as the future operator of the NPP and is also tasked with leading the siting studies in collaboration with National Center of Nuclear Sciences and Technologies (CNSTN) and National Centre for Radiation Protection (CNRP).
Regarding the IAEA milestones, Tunisia is still at the very first steps as they experienced political unrest for the past decade including the “Arab Spring” which slowed down the process. Nevertheless, Tunisia has conducted a few steps among them, the potential sites of the future Nuclear Power Plant. Two main sites are under-consideration as potential locations of the NPP but the main siting studies for these two locations have not been achieved yet.
In parallel, in 2009 a new approach was taken to consider a subcritical assembly for training activities. The subcritical assembly will support the development of national human resources and perform applied research and development in the nuclear field. It will be located at the CNSTN site in Sidi Thabet, 35 km from Tunis, and will enable scientific research projects to develop an understanding of specific concepts relevant to nuclear reactor physics.
There are a large number of studies which need to be conducted with international partners to revive the nuclear energy programme in Tunisia. These feasibility studies include:
- Energy planning
- Grid assessment
- Financing and funding
- Fuel cycle and radioactive waste management
- Reactor technology selection
As highlighted earlier, while two sites have been identified, studies such as Geology, Neotectonic & Capable Faults, Risks of External aggressions, Dispersion of radioactive materials, Bathymetric Survey needs to be conducted. A Preliminary Safety Report and Environmental Impact Assessment of the two sites needs to be achieved.
An immediate area for partnership opportunity would be the study of the assessment for the need sizing of the future NPP. A consultant is needed to conduct the preliminary study to determine which technology and size of NPP which would be suitable for Tunisia
Large reactors vs SMRs
SMRs are a great opportunity for Tunisia because of the relatively limited size of its grid. The country has a grid of about 5000 MW, so it is important to seek the right size for the NPP.
The Tunisian Permanent Secretary of the National Commission for Atomic Energy presented the above during the recent (21 Jan 2021) Maghreb session of the Africa Nuclear Research Update 2021. For further information and elaboration on the Tunisian nuclear power programme, email [email protected]