Africa ‘entitled to reap the benefits of atomic energy’

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There must be no restrictions on African use of peaceful nuclear technology, speakers said at the continent’s first conference on nuclear energy’s contribution to sustainable development.

Ministers and officials from at least 45 countries pledged in a joint statement to promote the safe and accountable use of nuclear energy, according to Reuters.

The two-day meeting (9–10 January) in Algiers, Algeria discussed Africa’s need for electricity from nuclear power stations and discussed how nuclear radiation research may help advance health care, agriculture, industry and the environment. Africa has no nuclear weapons.

According to the Magharebia news website, Ramtane Lamamra, secretary-general of the Algerian foreign affairs ministry, said, "Africa is entitled to reap the benefits of atomic energy without any constraints or obstacles being put in its way." He noted that this had to remain within the bounds of existing agreements such as the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, opening the conference, was quoted as saying, "It prepares for the next summit of the African Union, which could be inspired by the deliberations on how to apply science and technology to development."

Mohammed El-Baradeï, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a statement that his organisation would continue to promote technical cooperation within Africa.

He pointed out that areas of nuclear technical assistance to Africa include the management of groundwater resources, crop improvement, combating the tsetse fly and other pests, treatment of cancer and communicable diseases, nutritional intervention, industrial productivity and environmental protection.

El-Baradeï noted that the continent only had two nuclear power reactors, both in Cape Town, South Africa. "Nuclear power makes up only a small part of Africa’s energy supply. But South Africa has plans to increase its nuclear generating capacity, and a number of other African countries — such as Algeria, Egypt and Nigeria — have been expressing interest in nuclear power for both electricity production and the desalination of seawater," he said.

Namibia – the fourth largest uranium producer in the world – is developing its first nuclear power plant, according to a report in the Pretoria News in South Africa this week (12 January). Although the desert nation has long relied on South Africa for hydropower, the newspaper quoted Namibian mines and energy ministry permanent secretary Joseph Ita saying that frequent blackouts from the aging government-run power grid in South Africa prompted the new policy.