Russia’s Promise of Building Nuclear Plants in Africa

For more than two decades, Russia has been struggling to help Africa overcome its energy deficit, with little success. But now, with financial support from the European Union (EU), two international organizations have been chosen as modelling partners for the development of the African Continental Power Systems Master Plan (CMP). The two organizations will lead the development of an electricity master plan that promotes access to affordable, reliable and sustainable electricity supplies across the continent.

As expected, African
stakeholders will play roles in identifying surplus and deficit
regions/countries, in terms of electricity generation and demand, as
well as the most cost-effective ways of expanding clean electricity
generation and transmission infrastructure across the Africa.


energy ministers tasked the African Union Development Agency
(AUDA-NEPAD) to lead the development of the master plan. Following a
two-year consultation process coordinated by the EU Technical Assistance
Facility (TAF) for Sustainable Energy.


and Southern Africa are vast, geographically diverse regions with
rapidly growing populations and rising demands for energy. According to
the master plan there two regional power pools. A new study entitled
Planning and Prospects for Renewable Power: Eastern and Southern Africa,
assesses the long-term energy plans for the two regional power pools
(known as the Eastern and Southern African Power Pools), and finds the
region well-endowed with high quality, cost-effective, but
under-utilized wind and solar resources.


practical terms, Africans are looking for energy alternatives to embark
on the next round of industrialization. Russia’s nuclear energy
diplomacy in Africa has been at the crossroad over the past two decades
since the collapse of Soviet-era. In order to find long-shelf solutions
to chronic power shortages, African leaders and Governments, that have
shown interest in adopting Russian nuclear energy, signed necessary
legal documents but lacked the needed funds for prompt implementation
and final realization.


and Africa’s aspirations in this sphere of nuclear cooperation come
with many challenges. In Rwanda and many other African countries, the
first question is finance. “Rwanda’s annual budget stands at US$3
billion while the construction of the nuclear power plant would cost not
less than US$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 in an
emailed interview.


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.


all African countries have serious energy crisis. Over 620 million in
Sub-Saharan Africa out of 1.3 billion people do not have electricity. It
is in this context that several African countries are exploring nuclear
energy as part of the solution.


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.


to Himbara, “Of all African countries that have shown interest in
nuclear energy, none have so far gone beyond the stage of conducting
preliminary feasibility study, project costing and financing models,
except South Africa.”


the South Africa US$76 billion deal with the Russians to build a
nuclear power plant collapsed along with the Government of Jacob Zuma
that negotiated the deal in secrecy, in fact when such corporate
projects have to be discussed and approved by the parliament and
necessarily have to pass through international tendering process.


and South Africa concluded an intergovernmental agreement on strategic
partnership in the nuclear sphere in 2014. The agreement provided, in
particular, for construction of up to eight NPP power units.


waste will pile up, and where are they going to put it? The Sahara? The
US is always trying to force nuclear waste repository on some poor or
indigenous community and when that fails, the waste keeps piling up at
the reactor sites, creating greater and greater environmental risks,”
according to Himbara.


underscored the fact that “managing nuclear waste and its safety is
universally complex and dangerous. The Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine and
Fukushima in Japan, remind the world of the human and environmental
costs of nuclear power accidents. Millions of people are still suffering
from radiation and radiation related diseases till today.”


Minister Sergey Lavrov, in an interview with the Hommes d’Afrique
magazine in March 2018, described Africa as rich in raw material
resources, including those that are required for high technology and for
moving to a new technological pattern. Apart from mining, Russia and
African countries are cooperating on high technology.


was more important for Africa’s energy sector when he informed that
Rosatom has been considering a number of projects that are of interest
to Africans, for instance, the creation of a nuclear research and
technology center in Zambia. Nigeria has a similar project. There are
good prospects for cooperation with Ghana, Tanzania and Ethiopia. Talks
are still continuing on the construction of nuclear power plants in
South Africa.


Luwita, Zambian Ambassador to the Russian Federation, informed that the
processes of design, feasibility study and approvals regarding the
project have been concluded, in the case, with Zambia. The site of the
project designated and it is envisaged that construction should
commence, in earnest, not later than the second half of 2018. That
construction remains a monumental dream, though.


addition, he affirmed that the Russians envisaged technology transfer
in the development of this massive project by way of manpower
development capacity. For now, there are a few Zambian nationals, who
are studying nuclear science in Russia.


Zambian Government ultimately profitable hopes are that upon
commissioning of this project, excess power generated from this plant
could be made available for export to neighboring countries under the
Southern African Development Community Power Pool framework arrangement.


are still worried about Russia’s promise of nuclear plants estimated at
US$10 billion. In February 2020, Chairperson of the Federation Council
(the Upper House or the Senate), Valentina Matviyenko, headed a Russian
delegation on a three-day reciprocal visit aimed at strengthening
parliamentary diplomacy with Namibia and Zambia.


in Zambia meeting with the president and other high-ranking
legislators, she expressed regret at delay of the construction of a
center for nuclear science and technology due to financial issues. The
financial request submitted to the Russian president needed carefully
consideration by the relevant ministries and departments. She however
hoped Russia and Zambia would jointly find options to promote funding to
roll out the construction of a center for nuclear science and


is not an isolated case. From all indications, Russia wants to turn
nuclear energy into a major export industry. It has signed agreements
with African countries, many with no nuclear tradition, including Rwanda
and Zambia. In addition, Russia is set to build large nuclear plants in
Egypt that could serve the Maghreb region.


Egypt’s dreams of building nuclear plants has spanned with agreement
that was signed (as far back in March 2008) during official visit to the
Kremlin by the ousted President Hosni Mubarak, and then again with
former Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi who discussed the same nuclear
project with Vladimir Putin in April 2013 in Sochi, southern Russia.


the dawn of a new era at the Sochi summit, Vladimir Putin and Abdel
Fattah Al Sisi signed an agreement to set up four nuclear plants in El
Dabaa, on the Mediterranean coast west of the port city of Alexandria,
where a research reactor has stood for years.


deal signed on the heels of talks held between Putin and Al Sisi, where
both expressed high hopes that Russia would help construct the
country’s first nuclear facility. Egypt began its nuclear program in
1954 and in 1961, acquired a 2-megawatt research reactor, built by the
Soviet Union.


plans to expand the site have been decades in the making that Rosatom
will provide its fuel, personnel training, and build necessary
infrastructure. The four blocks of the nuclear power plant will cost
about US$20 billion. Director Anton Khlopkov and Research Associate
Dmitry Konukhov at the Center for Energy and Security Studies,
co-authored a report to Valdai Discussion Club, that success of Egypt’s
nuclear project depends on three key factors.


are the political stability and security situation in Egypt, a viable
financing mechanism that reflects the country’s economic situation, and
the government’s ability to secure support for the project among the
local residents of El Dabaa, the site chosen for Egypt’s first nuclear
plant back in the 1980s.


reality, Ghana has a similar never-ending dreams and fairy tales of
owning nuclear plants. The agreement re-signed on June 2, 2015. The
Russian reactor, 1000 MW plant, will cost a minimum of US$4.2 billion.
The financing scheme has not been finalized by the parliament. And it
will take about eight to ten years from site feasibility studies to
commissioning of the first unit, according to the Ghana Atomic Energy


local media reported, Ghana’s quest to industrialize for economic
growth and development has fast-tracked plans to establish nuclear power
in the country within the next decade, that means by 2029 and export
excess power to other countries in the west African sub-region.


“One District, One Factory” – Ghana’s industrialization agenda might
not be realized under Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s administration based
on the roadmap of the nuclear power programme to commence construction
by 2023 and inject nuclear energy into the grip by 2030.


African countries’ MoUs and Agreements with Rosatom including South
Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia and the rest
are, most probably, stacked. Nearly three decades after Soviet collapse,
not a single plant has been completed in Africa.


still advocate for alternative energy supply. Gabby Asare
Otchere-Darko, Founder and Executive Director of Danquah Institute, a
non-profit organization that promotes policy initiatives and advocates
for Africa’s development, wrote in an email that “Africa needs
expertise, knowledge transfer and the kind of capital imports that can
assist Africa to develop its physical infrastructure, add value to two
of its key resources: natural resources and human capital.

has respectable expertise in one key area for Africa: energy
development. “But, has Russia the courage, for instance, to take on the
stalled $8-$10 billion Inga 3 hydropower project on the Congo river?
This is the kind of development project that can vividly send out a
clear signal to African leaders and governments that Russia is, indeed,
ready for business,” he said.


renewable energy potential is enormous in Africa, citing the Grand Inga
Dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Grand Inga is the world’s
largest proposed hydropower scheme. It is a grand vision to develop a
continent-wide power system. Grand Inga 3, expected to have an
electricity-generating capacity of about 40,000 megawatts – which is
nearly twice as much as the 20 largest nuclear power stations.


Collyer, the Regional Representative of Rosatom for Sub-Saharan Africa,
told me in an interview in April 2021, that apart from energy poverty,
nuclear can be used to solve other continent problems, from low
industrialization to advances in science, healthcare, and agriculture,
thus propelling the continent towards the master plan of African Union’s
Agenda 2063.


envisions Africa’s transformation into the global powerhouse of the
future, so we are advocating a diverse energy mix that utilizes all
available resources, including renewables and nuclear, to ensure climate
resilience and environmental safety, social equity, and supply
security,” Collyer said.


researchers and experts strongly believe and further estimate that the
cost of building nuclear power, especially its associated high risks,
does not make any sense when compared to the cost of building renewables
or other sources of energy to solve energy shortages in Africa.


to the company profile, Rosatom offers a complete range of nuclear
power products and services from nuclear fuel supply, technical services
and modernization to personnel training and establishing nuclear
infrastructure. With 70 years’ experience, the company is the world
leader in high-performance solutions for all kinds of nuclear power
plants. Rosatom has built more than 120 research reactors in Russia and

*Kester Kenn Klomegah writes frequently about Russia, Africa and the
BRICS. As a versatile researcher, he believes that everyone deserves equal
access to quality and trustworthy media reports. Most of his well-resourced
articles are reprinted elsewhere in a number of reputable foreign media.

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