Atomic energy agency backs nuclear tech for Africa

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  • Africa’s poor understanding of nuclear science is hampering its adoption
  • The IAEA is partnering African nations to help use nuclear tech for development
  • An expert says Africa shouldwork out modalities for financing nuclear tech

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[VIENNA, AUSTRIA] African scientists and governments need to urgently demystify nuclear science to help countries enjoy its full benefits, says the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
According to the agency’s director-general Yukiya Amano, lack of social acceptance and poor understanding of nuclear science and its peaceful applications are to blame for the slow adoption of nuclear technology in Africa.
Besides energy, there are numerous peaceful applications of nuclear science that Africa could take advantage of, particularly in agriculture, energy and health to improve the lives of its people, Amano told a session devoted to Africa during the IAEA 59th general conference and scientific forum in Vienna, Austria last month (15-16th September).

“Africa has missed out on many technologies in the past and should make use of IAEA’s repository of expertise to help solve some of its problems such as inadequate energy.”

Ochilo Ayacko, Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board

“Lack of social acceptance and understanding remains one of the most difficult things in getting Africa to take up nuclear technology, yet it is not as complicated as people see it,” Amano noted.
Amano added that nuclear technology has the capacity to solve the economic challenges facing Africa today, adding that the agency is ready to partner African countries to help them obtain safe and secure nuclear energy to meet their development needs.
“Access to nuclear technology should not be limited to rich countries only and the IAEA is here as a reliable partner to help with expertise in all aspects of nuclear technology”, Amano said, noting that demand was slowly rising as countriesseek to expand their economies.
However, African countries must be allowed to make a “sovereign decision” on whether to take up nuclear technology, said Amano as he revealed that Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Tunisia and Uganda have expressed a desire to generate nuclear power, while South Africa is in the process of expanding its installed capacity.
These countries have the African Network for Enhancing Nuclear Power Programme Development, he added.
Ochilo Ayacko, the executive chairman of the Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board and chair of the African Union’s commission on nuclear energy, told African countries to take up the benefits of nuclear technology including power generation.
“Africa has missed out on many technologies in the past and should make use of IAEA’s repository of expertise to help solve some of its problems such as inadequate energy,” Ayacko said.
Nuclear energy, explained Ayacko, is affordable and clean, and the cost of putting up infrastructure is almost the same as that of a hydropower dam but cheaper to maintain than a coal power plant.

“With IAEA offering free expertise, what Africans need to do is to ensure adequate public participation in deciding whether to go for nuclear power, then work out modalities of financing development of infrastructure,” Ayacko said.
Zimamele Mbabo, the deputy director-director of nuclear energy in the Department of Energy, South Africa, said the country which has lately made headlines because of acute power shortages, hopes to produce 9,600 megawatts of power from nuclear reactors by 2030, and commission the first of its new planned reactors by 2023.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.