In light of the perennial power deficit in the sub-Saharan region, Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries are at different stages of exploring nuclear energy as an alternative source of power.
South Africa and Zambia are the top most countries in the region that have invested in the exploration and construction of nuclear power plants so as to offset perennial power deficit in their respective national grids.
Other countries like Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, DRC, Angola, Malawi and Swaziland are still at infancy stages of nuclear exploration to boost their capacity in generating enough power to propel industry and domestic consumption.
The Zambia Interim Secretariat on Nuclear Science and Technology (ISNST) in collaboration with Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation (ROSATOM) has set up an information centre to provide the public with information on nuclear technology that is set to assist the country in food radiation technologies, nuclear medicine for cancer treatment, material science, radioisotope production and mineral identification techniques.
National coordinator of the Zambia INCST, Reuben Katebe, said the centre will help the agricultural sector to grow sustainably and ensure the country’s food security.
“The use of radiation for food preservation will improve food safety and create conditions for the increase of Zambian agricultural exports. We hope that our information helped many farmers to understand all the benefits that the centre can bring to them,” Katebe said.
Katebe noted that apart from agriculture, the healthcare sector can also benefit from the centre.
“The radioisotopes produced here will be used to diagnose and treat primarily cancer and cardiac diseases. This centre will increase availability of high-tech nuclear medicine for Zambia’s population,” Katebe said.
The nuclear energy information centre is located at a stand at the agricultural and commercial showgrounds in Lusaka Zambia.
Representatives from Rosatom and Zambia ISNST, constituted by senior officials from various government ministries and institutions, worked on the stand, explaining the specifics and benefits the nuclear facility will have to thousands of Zambians.
Zambia is among the many countries in the SADC region that have signed agreements with Russia to develop nuclear power plants.
Hatmut Winkler, a chemist professor at the University of Johannesburg, estimated that the construction of the Zambia nuclear power plant is expected to cost US$30 billion.
South Africa has since begun exploring the use of nuclear as an alternative energy source to end its power deficit.
The country has two nuclear power plants namely Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant and Thyspunt Nuclear Power Plant generating five percent of the country’s electricity.
At the moment, South Africa is the only country in the SADC region with a nuclear power plant in full operation producing 1.86 gigawatts of power.
In a bid to appropriate the use of nuclear energy, Namibia also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Rosatom in 2016.
According to the World Nuclear Association, Namibia has 6% of the world’s uranium resources and this obviously constitutes an advantage because Namibia has no nuclear power of its own and relies on South Africa for about half of its electricity.
Angola was one of the first countries to adopt and produce nuclear power as an alternative energy source.
Angola has been a member of the International Atomic Energy Association since 1999 and the country’s nuclear energy law is being finalised in parliament.
Due to the increasing concern about climate change, there seems to be a global transition to clean energy and countries in the SADC region are following this drift.
Despite being the home to many different types of energy resources such as natural gas, strong hydro potential, solar energy among others, the Southern African region remains severely underdeveloped in the energy sector.
Historically, many emerging economies around the world have turned to nuclear energy in order to meet power shortages and as a way of opting for a cleaner source of energy with less carbon emissions.
In 2015, representatives from Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia and Uganda began preliminary plans to set up the African Network for Enhancing Nuclear Power Programme Development aimed at strengthening and building capacity across the African continent for the planning, development, and management of nuclear power infrastructure and programmes.
Despite the potential and interest of nuclear technology in the region, there still remains significant challenges to adopt the technology because of its high capital costs.