Russia Offers to Expand Nuclear Power in Africa

South Africa is the only country on the African continent with nuclear power generation, but Russia is working to make nuclear power a reality for more African nations. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at a Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, Russia, in late October—attended by heads of state and government representatives from 55 countries—and said his government is ready to provide its nuclear power technology to more of Africa.

“Rosatom [the Russian nuclear company] is prepared to help our African partners in creating a nuclear industry,” Putin said, with “the construction of research centers based on multifunctional reactors.” Rosatom already is building a $29 billion nuclear plant for Egypt, and the company is also helping Nigeria, Uganda, the Republic of Congo, and Rwanda establish nuclear facilities. The El Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant in Egypt will have four VVER-1200 reactors, or water-water energetic reactors, which are Russian-designed Generation III+ reactors. Russia is financing 85% of the project with a loan of about $25 billion to Egypt, and Egypt is paying the remaining 15% over a period of 13 years. Africa’s only current operating nuclear power plant is the 1.8-GW Koeberg Nuclear Power Station (Figure 1), north of Cape Town, which is owned and operated by Eskom, South Africa’s power utility that is struggling financially (see “Restructuring Report: Eskom ‘Fundamentally Insolvent, Permanently Impaired’ ” on powermag.com).

1. The Koeberg Nuclear Power Station in South Africa is the only operating nuclear plant on the African continent. The 1.8-GW facility entered service in 1984, and its lifecycle was recently extended to 2044. Courtesy: Creative Commons / Pipodesign Philipp P. Egli

African nations are trying to increase their power generation capacity on a continent that has long struggled to sustain reliable power. The International Energy Agency recently reported that 57% of Africa’s population does not have easy access to electricity, and those with access to power deal with frequent power outages. South Africa, meanwhile, recently announced a new energy plan for the 2019–2030 period, after government officials adopted a new Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for the country’s electricity generation. The new plan calls for significant additions of wind and solar power, with wind power supply expected to increase 900% by 2030, and solar power output forecast to jump by 560%.

Even with those increases, coal-fired generation will continue to provide most of South Africa’s power, at 43% of the energy mix in 2030—though that’s a large drop from coal’s current 71% share of electricity production. The IRP includes no mention of additional nuclear generation, but does push Koeberg’s operation out another 20 years. Koeberg, which came online in 1984, was expected to be decommissioned in 2024; the new plan proposes that be postponed until 2044.

South Africa’s minister of Mineral and Energy Resources, Gwede Mantashe, recently said nuclear power remains an option for the country moving forward. Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president from 2009 to 2018, was a proponent of nuclear power and put forth plans to build more nuclear generation. His successor, current president Cyril Ramaphosa, has said the country cannot afford to build more reactors. He and Putin met at the summit in Sochi, and Ramaphosa told South Africa media, “We have met a few times and each time the nuclear issue comes up.” Ramaphosa said he told Putin that the country would consider adding nuclear generation if the situation called for it, although cost is a major issue. Ramaphosa said he told Putin: “We are not about to embark on a nuclear power project we cannot afford.”

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).