Africa should Adopt Nuclear Energy for a Low Carbon Footprint


In a recent webinar hosted by WePlanet Africa, scientists urged African countries to embrace nuclear energy due to its low carbon footprint and baseload power capabilities. Amanda Mbele from South Africa’s Nuclear Energy Corporation, Abbas Kagudde from Soroti University in Uganda, and Dr. David Otwoma, the former chairperson of the Eastern African Association for Radiation Protection, emphasized the importance of nuclear energy in addressing climate change and the global energy crisis.

Seven African countries, including Kenya and Uganda, have already shown interest in nuclear energy and are at various stages of adoption, with plans of commissioning their nuclear reactors within the next 10 to 15 years.

To address concerns about safety and the handling of nuclear waste, Kagudde explained that more countries are opting for on-site deep storage, which involves burying highly radioactive waste deep underground in a geological repository. This method aims to isolate the waste from the biosphere over an extended period, allowing it to decay and reduce its radioactivity to safer levels. Suitable geological formations such as stable rock formations or salt deposits provide long-term stability and containment for the waste.

Amanda Mbhele, a scientist working with the South Africa Nuclear Energy Corporation, highlighted South Africa’s successful track record with nuclear energy, stating that the country has operated nuclear facilities for 96 years without any accidents or fatalities. She emphasized that, “nuclear energy can be safe, feasible, and a viable alternative for other African countries”.

Regarding the cost, Mbhele explained that the socioeconomic benefits gained over the lifespan of a nuclear plant, typically around 50-60 years, outweigh the initial investment. Studies have estimated that it costs about $2 to $8 billion to build a nuclear power plant that can serve for 60 years. In the long run, nuclear energy proves to be cheaper compared to other sources of clean energy, such as solar and wind, which have shorter lifespans of only 20 years.

Dr. David Otwoma emphasized the need for reliable power and called on African countries to adopt nuclear energy due to its ability to generate consistent electricity to meet demand day and night. Unlike solar and wind, which are intermittent and depend on weather conditions, nuclear energy is available up to 95% of the time, making it accessible and affordable for households and ideal for industrialization to create jobs and wealth.

Referring to Kenya’s Least Cost Power Development Plan, Dr. Otwoma noted that by 2040, the country’s demand for electricity will exceed its current generation capacity, providing a strong case for the urgent adoption of nuclear power. He also highlighted the role of nuclear energy in accelerating the shift from fossil fuels, major contributors to climate change, diversifying the energy mix, and reducing the carbon intensity of electricity generation.

Dr. Otwoma added that nuclear power plants produce electricity without significant emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases. The primary emission associated with nuclear energy comes from the mining and processing of uranium, which is relatively small compared to fossil fuel emissions. Additionally, nuclear power plants provide baseload power, operating continuously and reliably, which helps balance intermittent renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

Both Dr. Otwoma and Ms. Amanda agreed that nuclear energy plays a crucial role in achieving several Sustainable Development Goals, including access to clean water through desalination and poverty eradication through improved livelihoods in nuclear-powered economies. They emphasized that nuclear power’s high energy density allows a small amount of fuel to produce a large amount of electricity, reducing the need for extensive mining and transportation of fuel and associated emissions.

The webinar, moderated by Patricia Nanteza, the coordinator of WePlanet Africa, took place on June 15 and provided valuable insights into the potential benefits of nuclear energy for Africa’s sustainable development and energy needs.

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