Pathways Towards Africa’s Energy Security

By Kestér Kenn KLOMEGÂH
Today, African countries face major challenges in ensuring energy security. Several reports indicate Africa is experiencing a rapid population growth, rising unemployment, persistent ethnic conflicts and lack of good governance. And research further shows worsening energy crisis combined with factors mentioned are seriously constraining economic growth on the continent.
It is clear that to solve these problems a large-scale development programme is required, including a strategy based on achieving the UN sustainable development goals. Experts believe that nuclear technologies can become a driver for socio-economic development and a comprehensive solution to the systemic continent-wide problems. Others trust and argue that ‘energy mix’ as a more sustainable way out in creating the energy base for domestic utilization and for industrialization.
Energy is highly essential for aspects of large-scale development. It is clear that energy deficit is severely hampering Africa’s efforts to improve the quality of life, hindering effective industrial production. World Bank President, Ajay Banga, and his AfDB counterpart, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, have stated approximately 600 million Africans lack access to electricity (energy) and this unfortunate situation is creating significant barriers to health care, education, productivity, digital inclusivity, and ultimately job creation.
On their part, the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB) are partnering to provide electricity access to, at least, 300 million people in Africa by 2030. According to Banga and Adesina, it would require an additional policy action from African governments, financing from multilateral development banks, and private sector investment to see this through. This also depends on the kind of energy to provide in Africa.
That however, leaders of African governments are keenly interested in adopting nuclear energy to end chronic power deficit but some maybe forced either to keep on postponing or completely abandon the project primarily due to lack of finance or credit guarantees.
Within the framework of 2018 BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit held in Johannesburg, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told his counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at a bilateral meeting that South Africa was not ready to renew the agreement on the construction of nuclear power plants in South Africa.
Putin raised the subject of a nuclear deal at a private meeting with Ramaphosa, but his host said Pretoria could not sign such the deal for now. Ramaphosa has put nuclear expansion on the back burner since taking office as president, saying “it is too expensive” and has focused instead on election campaign pledges to revive the economy and crack down on corruption.
Ramaphosa said “We have to look at where the economy is – we have excess power and we have no money to go for a major nuclear plant building. The nuclear process has be looked at in the broad context of affordability.”
Under Jacob Zuma, South Africa championed plans to build as many as eight reactors that would generate 9,600 megawatts of energy starting from 2023 and cost as much as $84 billion – a programme critics say the country can’t simply afford and doesn’t absolutely need.
There is only one nuclear power plant on the entire African continent, namely, Koeberg nuclear power station in South Africa. Commissioned in 1984, Koeberg provides nearly 2,000 megawatts which is about 5% of installed electricity generation in South Africa.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated, as always, in an interview with the Hommes d’Afrique magazine posted to the ministry’s official website, that Russia and African countries were cooperating on high technology and Russia is highly committed to contributing towards sustainable development in Africa.
According to him, “Rosatom is considering a number of projects that are of interest to Africans, for instance the creation of a nuclear research and technology centre in Zambia. Nigeria has a similar project. There are good prospects for cooperation with Ghana, Tanzania and Ethiopia. Talks are underway on the construction of a nuclear power plant in South Africa.”
Foreign and local Russian media further reported that Russia wanted to turn nuclear energy into a major export industry. It has signed several agreements with as many as 14 African countries with no nuclear tradition, including Rwanda and Zambia, and is set to build a large nuclear plant in Egypt.
“Indeed, Rwanda has just joined the chorus by signing an MOU with the Russians to build a nuclear power plant. This is something of a joke. How will this be financed? Rwanda’s annual budget is US$3 billion. A nuclear power plant will cost not less than $9 billion which is equivalent to Rwanda’s entire Gross Domestic Product,” David Himbara, Rwandan-Canadian Professor of International Development at Canada’s Centennial College, wrote me in an emailed interview query.
Professor Himbara said that Rwandan President Paul Kagame always believed that he must validate his supposedly visionary and innovative leadership by pronouncing grand projects that rarely materialized.
Nonetheless, Ghana has also signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the State Atomic Energy Corporation of the Federation of Russia for the construction of a nuclear power plant. The plant will produce up 1,200 megawatts. The Russian reactor will cost a minimum of $4.2 billion. The financing scheme has not been finalized. It will take about eight to ten years from site feasibility studies to commissioning of the first unit.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s 2017 Report concluded that Ghana is still in an early phase of developing nuclear energy. So far, Ghana has enacted a comprehensive nuclear law, established an independent Nuclear Regulatory Authority.
In June 2024, Dr Robert Sogbadji, deputy director in charge of nuclear and alternative energy, explains to this article author that Ghana would select, by December 2024, a foreign company to build its first nuclear power plants. Ghana is working steadily with its vendor partners with serious considerations on favourable financial terms and technology. Currently, Ghana has identified two sites to accommodate its first nuclear power plant and is ready to identify a vendor country and technology by the end of 2024. Russia, China, France, the United States and Korea are the leading contenders of the vendor identification.
In accordance the Ghana Energy Transition Framework, Ghana seeks to provide energy security and address energy poverty as well as reduce the cost of electricity by further diversifying the energy mix with gas thermal, hydro power, nuclear power, solar, wind and other modern renewables. Since Ghana has exhausted all its large hydro potentials, Ghana seeks to nuclear and gas thermal power as the base-load to support the intermittent renewables.
In the case of Zambia, under the agreement that was concluded in December 2016 to build a nuclear deal worth $10 billion. Shadreck Luwita, Zambian Ambassador to the Russian Federation, informed that the processes of design, feasibility study and approvals regarding the project have almost been concluded.
The Zambian Government hopes that upon commissioning of this project, excess power generated from this plant could be made available for export to neighbouring countries under the Southern African Development Community Power Pool framework arrangement, he said.
Late February 2020, Chairperson of the Federation Council (the Upper House or the Senate), Valentina Matviyenko, headed a Russian delegation on a three-day working visit aimed at strengthening parliamentary diplomacy with Namibia and Zambia.
According to an official release from the Federation Council, the visit was within the broad framework mechanism of parliamentary consultations between Russia and African countries. The key focus are on political dialogue, economic partnership and humanitarian spheres with Namibia and Zambia.
The delegation held talks with President Edgar Lungu at State House in Lusaka, Zambia. The delegation referred to their visit “as a reciprocal visit” and emphasized unreserved commitment to strengthen political dialogue and then re-affirmed interests in broadening economic cooperation with Zambia.
There was an in-depth discussion construction of nuclear plant. Under the agreement that was concluded in December 2016 on the construction of the nuclear plant estimated at $10 billion. The processes of design, feasibility study and approvals regarding the project concluded. Russia was unprepared to make financial commitment, and Zambia lacks adequate funds to finance the project.
Matviyenko said: “Now the start of the construction of a center for nuclear science and technology has been suspended due to financial issues. I would like to say that the request submitted to the Russian president is being carefully considered by the ministries and departments. I’m confident that we will jointly find options to promote funding to roll out the construction of a center for nuclear science and technology.”
Of course, the construction of the nuclear plants will qualitatively change the economy of Zambia, not only to fully meet its electricity needs, but also to export it to other southern African countries. The Zambian government refers to it as revenue generation tool using the phrase – “this plant could make available for export to neighbouring countries under the Southern African Development Community Power Pool framework arrangement.”
In his discussion, Dr. Scott Firsing, a Research Fellow at Monash University South Africa, says Africa and the world needs nuclear, along with solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal, for cleaner energy. Africa can leapfrog outdated technology and help lead a new clean energy revolution.
He believes that “nuclear will always have a role in energy generation because it’s the best way of producing large amounts of carbon-free electricity. The key hindrance is the cost of producing nuclear energy and how best to deal with nuclear waste so as to maintain safe environment, the risk that it poses from poor handling and management.”
Professor Stephen Thomas, a Nuclear Economist from the University of Greenwich in the United Kingdom explains that African countries lack the nuclear expertise and infrastructure, Most important, they lack the financing capability. Russia claims to offer adequate finance, but that claim of preparedness to support construction of nuclear plants across Africa has not been demonstrated outside centrally planned economy.
“Nuclear power is an expensive diversion from policies that could meet the objectives of improving the reliability of electricity supplies in Africa, making power affordable for consumers and meeting environmental goals,” he wrote in an emailed interview.
Thomas added: “Nuclear is too high an economic risk for countries that cannot afford to make big mistakes. However, they must be guided by Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine and Fukushima in Japan, millions of people are still suffering from radiation and radiation related diseases till today.”
Currently, many African countries are facing energy crisis, for both domestic and industrial use. Energy poverty affects millions of their citizens. Over 600 million in Sub-Saharan Africa out of more than one billion people still do not have electricity. Industrial sector needs power for its operations and production for the newly established single continental market.
It is in this context that several African countries are exploring nuclear energy as part of the solution. Russia is on a charm offensive across Africa signing and re-signing agreements with many governments to build nuclear power plants. After the first Russia-Africa summit, it has, as an exceptional case, granted $29 billion loan for the construction in Egypt based on its strategic bilateral relations.
The nuclear agreement was signed as far back in 2015. For now, it difficult to say how other African countries would finance construction of their individual plants. That compared, Francophone African leaders are bartering their natural resources for Russia to provide security and undertake various infrastructure projects. Burkina Faso’s nuclear ambitions went viral after signing memorandum of understanding, not yet an agreement, over nuclear power with Russia in 2023.
More than thirty years Russia has been pushing for post-Soviet relations, but with nuclear energy diplomacy Africans have to wait for another generation. The dreams of building nuclear plants are, in other words, far from reality, and will definitely hold back the full realization of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and sustainable development goals under AU Agenda 2063.

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