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[NAIROBI] The Kenyan government has identified construction sites for a nuclear power plant — potentially the first on the continent outside South Africa.

Rolex Kirui, a senior engineer for the Kenyan government, says that one site has been identified near the Kenyan coast and construction is scheduled to begin once an ongoing environmental study has been completed. He says that a second potential site has been identified in western Kenya, bordering Lake Victoria.

Kenya's energy minister, Kiraitu Murungi, first announced plans for the plant's construction last year (9 October).

Murungi told SciDev.Net there is a shortage of 3,000 megawatts of electricity for the country. Kenya generates just 1,100 megawatts of electricity per year and its electricity production is ranked twenty-second in Africa.

''With nuclear energy there is potential to generate four times that amount or even more,'' he says.

South Africa is the only African nation to have a fully operational nuclear power plant. Egypt and Nigeria are in the process of planning their own plants but Kenya is the first to both identify a site and undergo an environmental study.

David Maina, director of nuclear science and technology at the University of Nairobi, told SciDev.Net the project will cost an estimated 80 billion Kenyan shillings (US$1 billion).

But it will take at least five years before the plant is operational as extensive inspection must be carried out by authorities such as the Radiation Protection Board and the National Environmental Management Authority.

Construction could begin as early as September 2010 once a feasibility study is complete, says Maina.

Kirui says that construction of the plant could act as a model for other African countries to solve their own electricity problems. He is also confident that the plant will not harm the environment, since all necessary safety measures will be taken.