Nuclear is Africa’s best hope and path to glory

Chiahanam Joseph, a 5th year student of Medicine and Surgery at the University of Nigeria, was one of the 163 students that participated in wePlanet Africa’s inaugural Essay Writing Competition on nuclear energy. In his essay that also earned him third place, the 23-year-old posits that nuclear energy is Africa’s best hope and path to glory.
Nuclear energy is the answer to Africa’s energy poverty and efforts to mitigate effects of climate change. (wePlanet Africa)

Chiahanam Joseph

Sustainable and clean energy is the future the world is driving into, but for Africa, the hope of this glory appears bleak as fossil fuel dominates our production. Beyond the adverse effects of this source of energy, Africa faces a serious deficiency in energy supply as only a fraction of its population is connected to the grid. But even for those few, the epileptic power supplies remain a serious concern. Africa Energy Outlook 2022, reports that 43% of Africans do not have access to electricity, majority of this population is resident in Sub-Saharan Africa (International Energy Agency, 2022).

Hence, nuclear energy may be the needed plug, and the stone to kill two birds as far as cutting gas emissions and increasing the energy supply-to-demand ratio remains a priority for Africa.

 Climate change mitigation

According to Kamer (2023), Africa’s CO2 emissions in 2021 stood at 3.9% of the world’s total emissions from fossil fuels. In the last 20 years, the region’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions has oscilated between 3.4% and 3.9% of the world’s total gas emissions (Statista, 2023).

While it appears negligible from a global perspective, but for the African continent, it is a dangerous view as the brunt of climate change’s most grievous effects is more pronounced in the region. From 1990-2017, the region’s carbon footprint has been growing by 4.6% annually (Ayompe, 2021).

Poverty concerns

Consequently, temperatures in Africa are rising exponentially, and experts project that in the next two decades, total deglaciation will happen and subsequently by the mid-century, Africa’s economy could shrink by 3% on account of climate change damages (Abbott, 2021). Higher temperatures will dry out vegetation and reduce surface water, and with deglaciation comes the increased risk of flooding.

If we allow this shrinkage of the economy to continue, more Africans will sink into poverty. This is a total disaster for a region already battling with severe poverty concerns. How can we salvage the situation? The answer lies in a zero-carbon emission programme and the most sustainable means is a path through nuclear energy. Nuclear power has the ability to address the climate crisis.

According to Grossi (2020), nuclear power plants produce no air pollutants during their operations and when properly managed, can serve as a sustainable complement to renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. This complementary role in renewable energies will serve as a cushion to deficiencies of some of these clean sources of energy and ensure a complete hold on a transition to a low-carbon energy system.

In a continent where 900 million people lack access to clean cooking fuel and 600 million do not have access to electricity, nuclear power is the means to address Africa’s food security and developmental challenges (Maina, 2022).

Energy diversification

The energy mix of a country determines, to a great extent, the resilience of its energy security (Akrofi, 2020). In Africa, energy mix is not a concept evident in many countries within the region although the continent is rich in renewable energy sources. Africa has a photovoltaic (PV) technical potential of about 7,900 GW (International Renewable Energy Agency, 2022).

This estimate makes it one of the world’s greatest potentials for solar power generation, yet less than 1% of global installed solar photovoltaic capacities are in Africa (PwC Network, 2022). It also has enough water bodies to power a sustainable hydro project. Only a few of its nations are exploring energy sources, on a large scale, outside fossil fuels and a much lower fraction is considering a nuclear project.

According to Deo (2020), South Africa is the only African country with a commercial nuclear power plant operational in the entire region. Nuclear power has great potential due to its energy-dense fuel coupled with its potential for use in desalination and steam generation, and its energy is the only proven scalable energy source with no concerns about air pollution (World Nuclear Association, 2022).

Price stability

In addition, concerning the cost of electricity, a good mix of nuclear power and other renewables with a high share of low-emission sources will strengthen price stability. The biggest cost component of the system is the in-front construction cost; the operating cost of nuclear energy is only a small part of the overall unit cost of electricity generation (International Atomic Energy Agency, 2016).

This means less end-price fluctuations and ultimately, affordability. Nuclear energy will play a crucial role if Africa is to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, address chronic air pollution and climate change and ensure the achievement of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals 7.

Uranium atoms are fundamental in the fission reaction of nuclear power plants (World Nuclear Association, 2023). Africa is home to large deposits of this mineral. Niger, the second main uranium producer in Africa has more than 276, 000 recoverable resources of Uranium (Statista, 2023). If African countries can commit to the nuclear programme, we can increase our mining strength and ensure a sustainable fuel source. The ripple effect creates need for more labour and hence more employment opportunities for its population.

Furthermore, the exploration of nuclear energy will result in human empowerment through the acquisition of relevant knowledge and technology transfer. Some African countries are already taking the bull by the horn. In 2013, Kenya sent eleven students to South Korea for nuclear training (Sabahi, 2013). The knowledge gained is brought back to Africa and encourages not only their individual development but also fosters indigenous involvement in the technicalities of the nuclear programme.

A myriad of challenges

Notwithstanding, the above spotlights face many challenges. One of them is the low public acceptance of nuclear power. In South Africa, different groups such as Earth Africa and SAFCEI Johannesburg are already on a campaign to halt nuclear advancements. Similar groups are bound to increase as various other African nations subscribe to nuclear energy.

According to Stimson (2020), South Africa uses wet and dry storage methods for its nuclear waste. On-site storage of used fuel in spent fuel pools and casks is used to hold highlevel waste from the Koeberg reactor (Stimson, 2020). Finland is currently exploring more sustainable options, and Africa will do well to consider the approach as they plan towards a nuclear programme.

The idea for Finland to create create three barriers around nuclear waste will isolate lethal radioactive materials from the outside world for as long as 100,000 years.


About seven African countries have expressed readiness to roll out nuclear power plants at a start date in 2030 (Lovering and Kincer, 2021). But the fruition of this dream is still a probability as not many of them have developed sustainable policies for the program. For sustainability in this nuclear program, African governments must begin efforts for skill storage.

The establishment of Research and Development Institutes that will be tasked with findings relevant to nuclear energy is important for us to build enough skill-set for the project we want to initiate.

Finally, good energy is important for an easy life. Available figures reveal that Africans remain underserved in this regard, yet our carbon emission profile continues to rise because of our over-dependence on biomass and fossil fuels which have not only proven inefficient but also unsafe for a sustainable future.

Nuclear energy seems to be the path to glory. African policymakers and stakeholders in our different national governments must commit to this path. We must understand that the future we desire is not a random project; we must make deliberate efforts for its design.


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Ayompe, L.M. (2021). “Trends and drivers of African fossil fuel CO2 emissions 1990- 2017”. Environmental Research Letters, vol.15, no.12. Available at: https://doi.10.1088/1748-9326/abc64f

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