Atoms for Africa: Nuclear Power and the Future of Total Electrification

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As a lead producer of uranium and thorium, Africa has the opportunity to take advantage of its resources within the global nuclear energy sector.

The second day of the African Energy Week 2022 Conference and Exhibition, held in Cape Town on 19 October, featured a keynote speech by Dr. Lassina Zerbo, former Prime Minister of Burkina Faso and Chairman of the Executive Advisory Board for Africa at Nano Nuclear Energy, during Africa’s potential as a future hub for nuclear energy was discussed.

Base load supplies continue to be one of the main concerns for African countries as they tackle energy poverty while ensuring reliability of their power generation systems. As a leading producer of uranium and thorium – the base feedback material for nuclear power – several countries in Africa have expressed interest in developing nuclear power plants.

“Many African countries are considering nuclear power as an alternative source of clean energy technology,” stated Dr. Zerbo, adding, “The sustainable economic development of Africa relates to an increase in energy demand. This requires the rapid development of electricity grids and the exploitation of renewable and low-carbon energy resources to scale.”

Additionally, the session featured a presentation by Sama Bilbao y León, Director General for the World Nuclear Association, who discussed what the future holds for nuclear power in Africa during the era of the global energy transition.

“We cannot afford to disregard any energy sources, we need all of them in different proportions and different mixes,” stated Bilbao y León, adding, “Nuclear energy has the lowest sustainability footprint of all energy sources when it comes to carbon emissions, when it comes to clean air and clean water, when it comes to land used for nuclear energy, and when it comes to the socioeconomic and biosphere impact.”

What’s more, a panel discussion featuring the participation of Ms. Bilbao y León; C. Derek Campbell, Executive Chairman, African Metals Group; Francis Carruthers, CEO, Lesedi Nuclear Services; Des Muller, Spokesperson, SA Nuclear Build Platform; and Dr. Van Zyl De-Villiers, Senior Consultant, International Atomic Energy Agency; and moderated by Suzanne Jaworowski, Business Development Consultant, NuScale Power, touched on the topic of nuclear power in Africa and the future of total electrification.

“It takes a lot of effort and a lot of skills to start a nuclear program. Once you’ve deployed nuclear plants in your country, you’ll find that source of energy to have the largest energy provision factor of the whole base,” stated Carruthers, adding, “Africa needs to take that leap of faith to move forward.”

To ensure that investment, technology, and value chains are developed on the continent, African states will need to ensure their capability regarding the storage and safe disposal of nuclear waste, with the potential impact of radioactive waste serving as a strong environmental concern for environmentalists and investors.

“The nuclear industry is extremely cautious, and people don’t necessarily buy into something they don’t understand,” cautioned Des Muller, adding, “Yet, [South Africa is] one of the pioneers in the nuclear industry. One of the natural resources we have are the skills and capabilities within the nuclear energy industry.”

Furthermore, the panelists discussed the need for Africa to take advantage of its mineral resources, particularly uranium and thorium, elements that serve as the feedstock for nuclear power, which may be improved to empower producing countries and strengthen local content.

“Nuclear power is where Africa needs to go,” stated C. Derek Campbell, who added that, “Nuclear power will create enough baseload power, energy security, and jobs, and, for Africa to participate in a leadership role in nuclear power, the continent has the opportunity to produce enough uranium and thorium for the whole world.”

In order for Africa to hasten the technology transfer and improve capacity building, it was noted during the panel discussion that African countries will need to develop various mechanisms between governments and international organizations to ensure the fast-tracked development of nuclear power plants and the mechanisms through which radioactive waste may be disposed of effectively.

“There’s a very strong base of knowledge about, and actual implementation of – nuclear technologies in the fields of human health, industry, agriculture, so when it comes to the regulatory side of things, Africa can learn from its already-established platform,” concluded Dr. De-Villiers.

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