Nuclear Energy Can Eliminate Poverty in Africa

Nuclear Energy Can Eliminate Poverty in Africa

by PD Lawton , 19 September 2021

image: transmission lines. Dailyenergyinsider

Energy poverty sustains poverty because electricity is the foundation of all economic development

Africa suffers from an acute energy deficit. Electricity consumption correlates directly with a nation`s standard of living. Electricity is the foundation of all economic development from manufacturing and agricultural processing to hard infrastructure,communication, health care and education.

At present, sub-Saharan Africa has roughly the equivalent energy capacity of one European country, that being Spain, which is the 14th largest economy by GDP.

Half of sub-Saharan energy capacity is in South Africa which despite this, cannot meet its own demand for electricity.

600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to electricity.

900 million households have no alternative to wood or manure for cooking.

image: Africa by night

In terms of environmental degradation, which results in natural disasters, wildlife habitat loss, loss of biodiversity, forest clearance which leads to lower rainfall, desertification and lower crop yields, only economic development can solve this.
To say that Africans must not burn coal, cannot have nuclear and must not increase energy capacity in order to protect against climate change, is to condemn them to continued poverty and their environment to continued degradation which is one of the primary causes of climate change.

The case for this has been proven throughout China which has eliminated all dire poverty by stimulating economic development and has now one of the world`s highest environmental standards. Multiple arid regions are now experiencing increased rainfall due to the creation of new forests and other techniques which stop environmental degradation. In China this has been successful as economic development is viewed as key to solving environmental degradation.

Africa`s Size and Climate Present Unique Energy Challenges .

Europe and North America are small regions compared to the sheer scale of the African continent . Even single African countries dwarf regions in the West. The Democratic Republic of Congo, the second largest African country, situated in the center of the African landmass, is roughly 2.5 million km2. That is slightly greater than the combined land surfaces of Spain,Germany, France, Sweden and Norway.The capital of DR Congo is Kinshasa which is located in the west. Bukavu is the provincial capital of South Kivu which is in the east. The distance between the 2 cities of Kinshasa and Bukavu is 2,494km which is slightly less than the distance between London and Moscow.
In South Africa the distance from Pretoria to Cape Town is the same as that from Rome to London.From Cape Town to the eastern capital, Durban, is 1, 274km.

image: orange=China,brown=USA, yellow=India+Japan+Germany, blue=UK=Eastern Europe,pink=france, light brown=Spain


The African continent is larger than the combined land surfaces of the USA, China, India and Europe.

Transmission distances in Africa are therefore far greater than any other region in the world. Due to the resistance properties of electric current the further you are away from the source of power generation, the less current can be drawn off.
The length of transmission cables and scale of energy infrastructure needed for Africa are uniquely daunting. The cost of transportation of fuel, be that coal or diesel, is far greater.

Hydro-power depends on rainfall.

In 2015-16 Zambia lost power capacity and the economy dropped by 40%.This was a result of prolonged regional drought caused by the el Nino weather system,which made hydro-power ineffective.Kariba Dam, the source of Zambia`s hydro-power was reduced within 1 year from 79% usable storage capacity to 19%.

Recently in Tanzania, an important hydro plant lost 73% of its output due to low rainfall.

African countries have to find workable solutions for African conditions.

Baseload is Essential and not an Outdated Concept

Baseload is the term used for basic 24/7 energy output.It is the minimum energy requirement for any economy. All across the globe industrialized economies rely on either coal or nuclear to supply baseload whether it is imported or produced domestically. Supplying baseload is where renewable energy fails. Solar and wind are weather dependant and cannot be reliable or consistant.

With the increasing development of the African high-speed continental railway (AIHSRN) more and more countries are using electric trains. These trains will be running 24/7 and will therefore need each country to have sufficient baseload. The new railway network is just one example of needing a reliable baseload.

Nuclear offers Solutions

The nuclear industry is extremely highly regulated and monitored. Having a nuclear industry in fact raises the professional competence of a nation. The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) is mandated by the UN to assist any country wishing to adopt nuclear energy in nuclear power generation. There are currently 34 African states who are active members of The Forum of Nuclear Regulatory Bodies in Africa.

Employment Creation,Science and Technology

The nuclear industry acts as a science driver for an economy unlike the renewables industry. Nuclear promotes research and development at the high end of science. The need for high level skills is an opportunity for Africa to uplift the labour market.
Koeberg is Africa`s first and at present, only nuclear power station, situated in Cape Town, South Africa. It provides in excess of 1500 highly skilled permanent employment opportunities, and that is consistant for up to 80 years.
Nuclear is a high density form of energy which makes it the most progressive source of energy production unlike wind and solar which are low density.

A volume equivalent to a couple of soft drink cans of uranium will supply 1 person`s energy needs for the duration of their life!

If Koeberg ran on coal, it would take 6 train-loads of coal every day to keep it at 2000MW capacity. In fact it takes 1 truck-load of uranium per year!

Compared to hydro and renewables, nuclear has a very small land footprint.


African populations are becoming increasingly urbanized as the younger generations seek employment opportunities in cities. Renewables are ideal in rural and remote regions to power homes and run water pumps, however, with increasing demand for electricity in cities, renewables cannot power a national grid, unless accompanied by nuclear.
In 2014, around 63% of South Africans were urbanized. By 2030, it is projected that 70% will live in cities.The increase in urbanization is similiar across the continent. Therefore demand for electricity is increasing. Job creation and general social welfare depend on the power capacity of any country.

Manufacturing and Economic Growth

South Africa is presently in a dire economic situation due to the lack of investment in the physical economy.If the situation in South Africa continues as it is, by 2030, the existing manufacturing/industrial plants will be faced with operation shutdown due to insufficient electricity.At present, there is no incentive to invest in new manufacturing plants because there is not enough power. See footnote [1]

Clean Energy

There is nothing clean or green in the manufacturing of solar panels and wind turbines. The obsolete components are unrecyclable and contain toxic heavy metals like cadmium, arsenic , chromium and lead.
There are no greenhouse gases emitted from a nuclear power plant. In Koeberg, South Africa, all the spent fuel from the last 40 years is stored deep underground on site. The storage of spent fuel is highly regulated. Nuclear waste is the same in size before and after processing. There is no loss in mass.
Koeberg accumulates 1 truckload of spent fuel per year.

Nuclear Can Make Potable Water

The extremely high temperatures of nuclear energy make it ideal for de-salinating sea water. Nuclear can provide the high temperature needed to boil sea water. The steam is then condensed and the salts removed. In arid regions de-salination is the answer to water scarcity. Countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE have hardly any rainfall but no shortage of  drinking water because they de-salinate using their abundant oil supply. The African continent is rich in uranium and thorium it could be put to good purpose to generate power and make potable water for regions like, for example ,the Eastern Cape in South Africa, that suffers constant droughts.

South Africa has one of the largest deposits of uranium in the world and the richest thorium mine. Thorium is needed for the next generation of nuclear technology.

South Africa: a world leader in nuclear innovation

Since construction there has never been any hazardous issue related to Koeberg, South Africa`s nuclear power plant, which has provided 2000MW to South Africa`s energy capacity since 1984.
Nuclear energy is cheaper in the long term than renewables. A wind turbine or solar panel have a short life expectancy compared to a nuclear power plant which provides power for up to 80 years. After the initial costs of construction, nuclear is the cheapest, cleanest, greenest,most reliable source of energy. South Africa has now spent more on renewables than what it would have cost to build a second nuclear power plant, R250 billion.

Small Modular Reactors are the Future

There is nothing to stop any African country going into nuclear power immediately…..The image that somehow nuclear is only for the `big sophisticated Western world` is not true. A small modular reactor of 100-200MW can be placed anywhere in Ethiopia [for instance] and Ethiopians can run it.” Dr Kelvin Kemm, South African nuclear physicist on OBN Future Africa [2]

What if someone said to you: there is a solution to all your energy needs? The solution can be operated in the centre of a city or in a desert, it is affordable, will generate power for decades and it is 100% safe. In the near future, it will be used in Space, on the Moon or Mars.

The large nuclear power stations are from 2000 – 4000 MW. There is now a whole new class of nuclear reactors which is the small modular reactor (SMR).They are typically 100-300MW. There are 2 types of SMRs. There is the older type which is water- cooled and there is now at the cutting edge of innovation, the gas-cooled SMR.

The SMR is a South African invention. The gas-cooled reactor can be used in the most arid and remote regions,not requiring water for cooling.

SMRs never have to be switched off for refueling.

SMRs cannot go into meltdown, it is technically impossible.

The cities along the West African coastline could all be powered by the water-cooled SMRs. Douala, Lagos, Cotonou, Lomé , Accra, Abidjan to Dakar could all be linked up and powered by cutting edge African technology!

image: Akon City, planned futuristic city in Senegal

Changing Perceptions for a Brighter Future

Times are changing rapidly as Africa demands the industialization of its economies, food self-sufficiency, mineral benefication of its own resources, manufacting of its own goods, jobs for the millions of unemployed youth, economic progress and the right to stand as equals among nations of the world. All of this comes down to power, the power to develop. With South African technology, Africa does not have to aim for being equal, it can aim for being first!


David Nicholls, a senior manager with Eskom for over 30 years
Load shedding: what caused it and why the lack of a solution?ChannelFMF :
2]Talk to OBN : interview with Dr Kelvin Kemm


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