Taking the nuclear option: the Egyptian government's decision to restart its nuclear power programme has highlighted the possibility of a renaissance for this most controversial of power sources. How important is nuclear in the African power mix? Neil Ford discusses.

Author:Ford, Neil
Position:Energy
 
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Growing concern over the impact of global warming has prompted a reassessment of nuclear power's future in a number of Western countries and this trend now seems to be affecting Africa for the first time. In addition to Egypt's decision to restart its nuclear power programme, there has been some discussion of Morocco building a nuclear power reactor, while South African power company Eskom still hopes to develop a string of pebble bed reactors, so could nuclear have a place in the African generation mix of the future?

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At present, the African generation mix is broadly dominated by hydroelectric power schemes and thermal power plants. In North Africa, domestic oil reserves were used to provide feedstock for thermal power plants, although most of these have now been switched over to gas.

South Africa has also relied on its own resources--in its case, on coal--to fire its large stock of thermal power plants. The vast bulk of the continent in between largely relies on hydroelectric schemes, backed up by some small thermal plants, including emergency diesel fired facilities.

Some larger gas-fired plants have been developed, such as the 288MW Azito plant in Cote d'Ivoire, which was brought on stream in 1999 and the Ubungo facility in Dar es Salaam. Others are planned in Namibia and South Africa but most countries will continue to rely on low carbon hydro schemes.

However, these are obviously highly vulnerable to fluctuating rainfall and so the power sector in most African states would benefit from more diversification. Renewable forms of energy, such as geothermal, solar and wind power will make an increasing contribution to the generation mix of many states, but it is possible that nuclear power could be considered by the continent's more prosperous nations.

Egypt does have a small experimental nuclear reactor, while South Africa operates two commercial reactors at Koeberg, but there is little other experience of nuclear power in Africa. The Egyptian civilian nuclear power programme was suspended two decades ago, following the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine. Now, however, the government has announced that it is considering building a 1,000MW reactor at El-Dabaa, on the Mediterranean coast. Demand for electricity in Egypt is expected to increase by 6-7% a year over the next decade and beyond. Population growth and the national electrification campaign are partly responsible but economic growth and...

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