Africa heads towards nuclear power backed by Russia and China

Ethiopia's state minister for the energy Frehewot Woldehana. Photo: RR

NEWSROOM (ADV) – In a damp office at Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa University, doctoral student Hailu Geremew fantasises about working on the nuclear reactor his country is now pondering building.

Geremew is part of a new generation of African scientists whose prospects are expanding as their governments team up with foreign powers on a potential fast-track to electrification.

For now, South Africa is the only country on the continent operating a nuclear power plant.

But in recent years, at least seven other sub-Saharan African states have signed agreements to deploy nuclear power with backing from Russia, according to public announcements and the World Nuclear Association (WNA), an industry body.

Ethiopia’s memorandum of understanding on nuclear cooperation with Russia paves the way for the construction of a nuclear power plant and a research reactor in the long term, said Frehiwot Woldehanna, Ethiopia’s state minister for the energy sector.

The East African country has been electrifying rapidly to meet rising energy demand and its own goal to become the biggest power exporter on the continent, while sticking to pledges to remain a low emitter of planet-warming greenhouse gases.

Plans for a nuclear power plant in Ethiopia remain at the “pre-feasibility stage”, but the country is serious about building one, he emphasized.

Like Ethiopia, emerging nuclear states Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Rwanda, Zambia and Ghana have signed agreements with Russia’s state nuclear corporation, ROSATOM – most since 2016.

Sub-Saharan African nations have shown an interest in nuclear because coal is scarce, while large volumes of natural gas in Nigeria and Tanzania tend to be exported for profit, said Jessica Lovering, co-author of a 2018 report, “Atoms for Africa”, from the U.S.-based Center for Global Development.

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