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Towards a Discussion on Renewable Energy Sources and the Nuclear Energy Sector

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Is Truth Born out of Dispute?

The debate has raged across the world over the past few years (and not only in the expert community) as to the priorities for energy development at the national, regional and global levels. Moreover, the West has extended this discussion beyond engineers, economists, energy sector specialists and investors to form an entire expert movement that conveys a particular opinion to the society at large and then influences governmental policies. Developing countries present a somewhat different picture, where governments enjoy greater independence from public opinion in their decision-making, although the discussions are no less heated, nevertheless. These discussions have already created stable stereotypes associated with supporters of a particular mode of energy sector development: support for renewable energy sources (RES) and distributed energy is the province of liberals, while (centrally managed) traditional energy is the pet project of the conservatives[1].

Recently, the debates between supporters and opponents of renewable energy sources in the media and on the internet have reached an unprecedented level against the backdrop of major power supply problems caused by the abnormal cold spells in Europe and the United States. For instance, the Russian media actively criticizes the RES-based energy policies of the European Union and the United States for bringing about dire consequences in terms of energy supply (which is in fact not the case).

Nuclear energy is another butt of long-standing criticism. Public opinion in Western Europe demands that politicians abandon nuclear power in favour of renewable energy sources. This pressure has resulted in government and inter-governmental programmes geared primarily towards developing solar and wind power and the use of hydrogen.

Most surprisingly, supporters of both sides frequently miss the essence of the debate: they fail to ask why the authorities sometimes plump for renewable energy sources, while in other cases they choose oil, gas, or nuclear power plants. As a result, we often witness experts complaining about the low share of renewable energy sources in Russia’s energy balance compared to the high rates seen in European countries. Russia is thus seen to be lagging behind, having missed opportunities to develop the renewable energy sector. The problem, however, lies elsewhere: renewable energy sources do indeed make it possible to radically reduce the environmental footprint. However, if the idea behind developing the national energy sector is to solve environmental and climate problems, for example, by achieving carbon-free energy supply by a certain date, as many developed countries, as well as China, have done, then it is necessary to develop renewable energy sources (now, pay attention!) in combination with other low-carbon types of energy: nuclear energy and natural gas. Let us stress once again that this combination does not at all contradict the ideology and essence of “Energy 4.0” or the “energy transition.”

The Energy Sector and Economic Development

Renewable energy sources have proved stable and reliable during the COVID-19 crisis and, as expected, every “respectable” forecast predicts stable growth of varying intensity[2].

Renewable energy sources will cover 80 per cent of the increase in global demand for power in the next decade, and are expected to surpass coal as the principal source of energy by 2025. The highest growth will take place in China, where renewable power generation is predicted to increase by nearly 1500 TWh by 2030, which equals the total power generation of France, Germany and Italy combined.

In the next decade, solar and wind power plants will replace coal as the investment priority in building new power generation facilities. Solar power plants (SPP) will be constructed with greater intensity compared to other generation facilities due to the short construction times, low capital costs and the opportunities they offer to reduce environmental pollution. As the solar energy sector develops, secure supply chains and land for building SPPs will become critical factors. At the same time, direct support from the state will no longer be needed in most cases, although auxiliary support measures for stabilizing financial balances will still play a significant role in accelerating the construction of new capacities and reducing the costs of implementing new solar power projects.

In 2010–2019, the average costs of building solar power plants fell by 80 per cent. Additionally, solar power plants enjoy some form of governmental support in over 130 countries. This support has made cheap financing for solar power possible, which has played an important part in achieving record low prices.

The use of wind power is also expected to grow significantly. The average global cost of generating this kind of power has fallen by approximately 40 per cent over the past decade. Wind power enjoys governmental support in about 130 states, over 70 of which intend to develop shelf projects. Improved technologies and preferential financing terms will make it possible to reduce the costs of offshore wind energy to around USD 50 per megawatt/hour (MWh) in the next five years, which is roughly half the cost of recently constructed wind farms.

The use of nuclear power has continued to grow around the world, thanks to the completion of the first units of the EPR and AP1000 in China in 2018. The first unit of the Hualong-1 reactor is slated to be put into operation by the end of 2020.

Nuclear energy accounted for approximately 10 per cent of power generation in 2019 and was the second largest source of low-emission energy around the world (after hydropower). Nuclear energy has also contributed to the reliability of energy supplies: most reactors continued to operate throughout the first wave of the pandemic, despite demand being lower than usual. NPPs made it possible to ensure a certain flexibility of power grids and reduce the dependence of some states on imported fossil fuels.

Nuclear power generation is expected to return to pre-crisis levels by 2023 as demand recovers. Depending on the development scenarios, it is forecast to grow by 15–30 per cent before the end of 2030, although its share in the energy balance will decrease somewhat against the backdrop of various trends manifesting in two groups of states. In 2019–2030, developing states will increase NPP power generation by two thirds, which will bring its share in the total power production to 6 per cent. In early 2020, NPPs with total capacity of 42 GW (out of 62 GW) were being constructed. In 2030, nuclear power capacity will increase from 110 GW to 180 GW. China is on track to becoming the leader in nuclear power by 2030, ahead of the United States and the European Union. As of early 2020, China operated 48 nuclear reactors and was building 11 more. China is one of the few states that, under the Paris Climate Accords, included both nuclear power generation and renewable energy sources in its national programme for reducing emissions. The NPP development programmes that are being implemented in Russia, India and the Middle East could also contribute to increasing the global significance of nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy was the largest source of power in developed economies in 2019, but its generation is expected to drop by 10 per cent in 2019–2030 due to reactors aging and the restrictions imposed on new construction projects. Within the next decade, over 70 GW will be decommissioned at the NPPs currently in operation. Extending their service life may provide about 120 GW that otherwise would be shut down by 2030. By early 2020, about 20 GW of new NPP capacities had been built in Finland, France, Japan, South Korea, Slovakia, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. Otherwise, the projected additional capacities in developed economies is limited.

By 2030, total NPP capacity in the European Union will have dropped by 20 per cent. The biggest drops will be seen in Germany (which plans to fully decommission its NPPs by 2022), Belgium, Spain and France. By 2030, the installed nuclear capacity in the United States will have declined by 10 per cent, despite the fact that construction has been completed on two AP 1000 reactors and that five states now offer livelihood loans to companies with zero emissions. In Japan, the total installed capacity of its NPPS will drop from GW 33 in 2019 to GW in 2030. Even those countries that are interested in developing nuclear energy are running the risk of soon abandoning it due to extremely complicated market conditions and the risks connected with new capital investment. This development is highly probable, despite the possibility of nuclear energy being declared “clean” and despite NPPs being the most economically efficient low-emission power source.

Overall, global investment in renewable energy sources and nuclear power will rebound to pre-crisis levels in 2021, and is expected to grow steadily to USD 420 bn by 2030. In the next decade, renewable energy sources and nuclear energy will account for up to 80 per cent of all investments in energy generation.

Features of Nuclear Energy Development in Russia and Around the World

Nuclear energy is a technologically proven source of electric power that has significant potential to reduce carbon emissions. It has a large number of unique features that make it a viable option for many governments throughout the world. For example, one of the advantages of nuclear energy, besides it having zero carbon emissions, is that it is manageable: it does not depend on weather conditions, which makes it compatible with renewable energy sources. Additionally, nuclear energy generates more power than other zero-carbon energy sources per unit of area (facilities require less space).

However, nuclear energy technologies are capital intensive. Capital costs may account for up to 80 per cent of the energy costs of a new nuclear power plant. Therefore, reducing the cost of power plant construction (including equipment, building materials and labour) are of fundamental importance for making nuclear energy competitive.

In addition to the high capital costs, nuclear energy has other problems—possible construction time and budget overruns and the uncertainty of energy prices throughout the life cycle of nuclear power plants in an era of increasingly cheap renewable energy sources and advances in energy storage technologies. This has prompted consumers and other interested actors (from taxpayers to national governments) to reassess their standing on NPPs. Additionally, the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in 2011 sparked political and social debates on nuclear power in some markets.

At the same time, according to the Energy Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, even though some countries abandoned the development of nuclear energy in favour of using renewable energy sources, global power generation at NPPs will increase by 2040.

Some experts believe it is desirable, reasonable and even necessary to combine nuclear energy with renewable energy sources to achieve the global carbon-free development goal. The goals set by international treaties to reduce environmental impact may prove unattainable if NPPs are abolished, despite the growing economy, population and emerging technological development trends. Additionally, some experts consider the projects to combine the use of NPPs (base-load demand) and renewable energy sources (variable duty) of particular interest.

The new developments in nuclear energy, such as building and operating mini nuclear reactors, appear highly promising in terms of long-term development. Several countries are working on such reactors. Russia, the United States and France have been particularly successful in this area. These technologies are particularly interesting for small states and isolated and remote regions (Russia is already building such a mini NPP in Yakutia).

Given Russia’s leadership in nuclear technologies, nuclear energy could play a leading role in the low-carbon technological restructuring of Russia’s energy sector. The transition to the new generation of VVER-TOI light-water reactors has already begun, and the use of fast nuclear reactors will develop at an increasingly rapid pace, which will in turn speed up the nuclear sector’s changeover, first to the combined fuel cycle, and then to the closed cycle. Additionally, new types of NPPs will boast improved safety and efficiency and lower capital intensity. Therefore, the share of capital investment in VVER-TOI power units will be reduced by 15 per cent compared to their current costs, and the target specifications for fast reactors will be 15 per cent lower still compared to VVER-TOI. Transitioning to the closed nuclear fuel cycle will also make it possible to halve the costs of generating power at NPPs.

The introduction of fees for greenhouse gas emissions, even at RUB 600 (approximately USD 8) per tonne of СО2, significantly improves the competitive edge of carbon-free energy technologies and will lead to a 10-per cent increase in NPP capacity by 2050 compared to the base case, which does not include emissions payments. This is about 31% of the installed capacities of Russia’s UES.

With two thirds of its territory made up of isolated or remote regions with power supply problems, Russia has a huge area for applying new nuclear energy technologies. It is perfectly clear that a large country with a low population density cannot resolve the problem in developing its energy sector through large-scale network construction. Small-capacity nuclear power plants constitute one of the most realistic ways out of this situation.

Conclusions

Our analysis demonstrates that renewable energy sources are the most attractive energy generation technologies for ensuring sustainable carbon-free development around the world. At the same time, there are a number of technological and economic problems that can only be overcome by adopting a systemic approach using additional technologies, radically new approaches to managing and regulating energy markets, and complex energy systems (including in the course of transitioning from primarily centralized to primarily distributed systems). This, in turn, requires additional expenditures on developing the energy infrastructure. Under the currently emerging conditions, nuclear energy has rather good development prospects in both developed and developing states. It can serve as a supplement to renewable energy. As one of the leaders in nuclear energy, Russia has several competitive advantages in the face of the tougher requirements and commitments in environmental protection and countering climate change.

1. For instance, the difference in the U.S. energy policy of the Republicans (Donald Trump) and the Democrats (Barack Obama, Joe Biden).

2. World Energy Outlook. International Energy Agency. Paris. 2020

From our partner RIAC

Ph.D. in Technical Sciences, Deputy Director of the Energy Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Deputy Director of the Energy Industry Institute of the National Research University Higher School of Economics

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East Mediterranean Gas Forum and Turkish expansion

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Image source: Greek Environment and Energy Ministry

The East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) is a unique regional organization in the eastern Mediterranean region. The establishment of the organization was announced when Turkey was seeking to expand in the Mediterranean region, as well as some eastern Mediterranean countries, such as Libya. Libya’s national security is an integral part of Egypt’s national security. In 2020, President Al-Sisi stated that: “Sirte and al-Jafra are a red line.” It is worth noting that Egypt has played an essential role in achieving a ceasefire in Libya. Egypt does not seek to interfere in Libya’s internal affairs but seeks to preserve its national security. Egypt supports the negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations and calls on all the disputing parties in Libya to negotiate and end the dispute in Libya in order to restore Libya’s stability and security. Turkish expansion in the Mediterranean causes concern to both Cyprus and Greece, as Turkey is drilling for gas near the Greek island of Crete, which has led to an escalation of tension between Turkey, Cyprus, and Greece. That led to the international community’s intervention to support Greece against the Turkish expansion, France pledged military aid to Greece, and Germany called on all parties to calm the conflict over gas in the Mediterranean. Turkey began the exploration process in 2019, and Turkey sees that it has many natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean and seeks to exploit it. However, there is still a problem of demarcating borders between Turkey and some eastern Mediterranean countries, which made the exploration process illegal. The demarcation of the borders between Libya and Turkey has led to the intensity of the conflict between Turkey and Greece. It is possible to say that Turkey did so in response to establishing the East Mediterranean Forum.

The East Mediterranean Forum is a regional organization, which includes six countries: Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Italy, and Israel. Its headquarters are located in Cairo, the capital of Egypt. The East Mediterranean Gas Forum organization was a forum. This forum was co-founded by Egypt, Jordan, Greece, Cyprus, Palestine, and Israel. The international community welcomed the idea of the forum. France requested to join the forum, and the United States of America attended the forum meeting as an international observer. Although Palestine is one of the founders of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum in 2019, it didn’t sign the protocol of the organization. Palestinian News and Information Agency reported that Palestine did not participate in the signing ceremony. And as a co-founding country of the forum, it will not retreat from the membership of any international organization that affirms its national and sovereign rights. The transformation of the Gas Forum into an international organization is an important and historic step in the region. It allows the countries of the region to cooperate in the eastern Mediterranean region. It’s worth mentioning that the eastern Mediterranean region includes nine countries, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Libya, Turkey, and Israel. And now only four countries from eastern Mediterranean region joined the organization.

The forum is an economic and political organization, which its primary goal is the economic exploitation of natural gas and the interest in strengthening cooperation and developing dialogue between the states of the organization; in addition to that, the organization works to protect the wealth of its members in the eastern Mediterranean region against Turkish expansion and it also puts an end to Turkey’s illegal drilling activities in the region. As we can see, the organization attempts to reshape the balance of power in the region. Although the clear objectives of the organization, there are many challenges face it, including challenges related to the organization as an institution, such as the mechanisms of the institution, decision-making, conflict resolution, and protection of the region’s gas wealth. In addition to that, border problems between some organization members and other countries, such as the problem of borders between Palestine and Israel and the dispute over the demarcation of the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel.

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Pakistan’s water-and-energy crisis

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The Indus Water Treaty talks between India and Pakistan had been in limbo since India abrogated special status  (Article 370) of the occupied Kashmir and usurped  hereditary rights(Article 35-A) of its permanent citizens. Following peace on the line of control, the two countries, water commissioners of the two countries held a meeting in March 2021 (though supposed to be held in 2019) to resolve outstanding issues. The main focus was on Pakistan’s objections to design of Indian hydropower projects on the Chenab River. India is building the 1,000 MW Pakal Dul Hydro Electric Project on river Marusudar, a tributary of the Chenab. The project is located in Kishtwar district of Jammu & Kashmir. The second project, Lower Kalnai, is being developed on the Chenab River.

The meeting was delayed because of India’s pugnacious attitude (surgical strikes, cartographic aggression on Kashmir, etc.).

The Indus Waters Treaty is a water-sharing treaty between India and Pakistan, facilitated by the World Bank, to use the water available in the Indus River and its tributaries. The treaty allocated the waters of the western rivers that are the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab to Pakistan and those of the eastern rivers, namely the Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej, to India. According to provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty, all the waters of the Eastern Rivers (Sutlej, Beas, and Ravi), amounting to around 33 million acre feet (MAF) annually, is allocated to India for unrestricted use and the waters of the Western rivers (Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab) amounting to around 135 MAF annually largely to Pakistan. Under the treaty, India has been given the right to generate hydroelectricity through run-of-the-river projects on the western rivers, subject to specific criteria for design and operation.

The treaty also envisaged funding and building of dams, link canals, barrages, and tube wells like the Tarbela Dam on the Indus River and the Mangla Dam on the Jhelum River.

Since time immemorial, the Indus-river system has been used for irrigation in undivided India. However modern irrigation- engineering work was initiated dating 1850s during the British rule. The treaty was necessitated by partition of India into the dominions of India and Pakistan in 1947.

The fruition of the treaty is attributed to David Lilienthal, former head of both the Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

After six years of talks, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistani President Mohammad Ayub Khan signed the Indus Waters Treaty in September 1960. The Indus-water treaty required the creation of a Permanent Indus Commission, with a commissioner from each country, to resolve e any difference of opinion on architecture, design, and other aspects of the dams that the two countries may build on the allocated rivers. Aside from bellicose statements to scrap the treaty, the Indus treaty remained intact though the two countries fought many wars.

In 2017, India completed the building of the Kishanganga dam in occupied Kashmir and continued work on the Ratle hydroelectric power station on the Chenab River despite Pakistan’s objections.

In post-Ayub era, Pakistan was not able to make progress on making new dams particularly the Kalabagh Dam. The construction of the dam was delayed owing to frivolous objections raised by the three provinces that are Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Instead of trying to evolve consensus on the vital water projects, Pakistan’s politicians remained engrossed in pettifoggery or machinations to pull down whichever government happened to be in power. 

Necessity of the Kalabagh Dam

This project was approved by the Technical Committee on Water Resources during 2003-2005. However, the feasibility report has not been implemented for over 15 years.  Now three of the four provinces (excluding the Punjab) are at daggers drawn over it. The fact however remains that the inter-provincial committee was composed of eight technical experts, two from each province.

The Committee also looked into all aspects including the effect of dilution of seawater with fresh water, seawater intrusion into the groundwater, riverine irrigation, and forests fisheries (Pala fish, shrimp, kharif and rabi cultivation), besides growth of Mangrove forests. The project had already been  approved by the World Bank Indus Special Study Group in its report titled Development of Water and Power Resources of Pakistan: A Sectoral Analysis (1967). The estimated cost, then, was US$6.12 billion, over six years from 1977 to 1982.

After commissioning of Tarbela Dam in 1976, the dam could have been built in six years by 1982. The cost per unit of 12 billion units, the KBD hydel electricity was Rs1.5 as compared to Rs16.5 per unit from thermal sources.

The dam was to serve as a receptacle to store monsoon flows of the upper reaches of the mighty Indus.

Our power shortage then was 4000-5000 MW. The estimated cost of constructing the dam was US$6.12 billion, over six years from 1977 to 1982. After commissioning of Tarbela Dam in 1976, the dam could have been built in six years by 1982. The cost per unit of 12 billion units the hydel electricity was Rs.1.5 as compared to Rs. 16.5 per unit from thermal sources. We are losing Rs. 180 billion per year due to ten time costlier production (12billion xRs.15 billion). Add to it loss of US$ 6.12 billion per annum from due to the superfluous flow of 30 million Acre Feet at of water from Kotri Barrage into the Arabian Sea (one MAF valued at US$1-1.5 billion).

Our water resources reserves have not risen pari passu with growth in population, 32.4 million in 1948 to 154.6 million in 2005, and 207.8 million in 2017. In  kharif season, rivers flow at 84 percent while only 40 percent during the rabi season. The present water storage capacity in Pakistan is hardly 11.77million acres per feet (MAF) that is about only eight percent of the annual flow.

Factors of water crisis

Three provincial assemblies resolved against building the KBD. A politician alleged the dam would convert Sind into a desert. Apprehensions against the dam could be allayed by reviewing Water Apportionment Accord (as directed by Lahore High Court also vide its Order dated November 29, 2012, case no. WP 8777). No justification to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Losses due to delay

The losses due to the delays in the project have soared up to Rs180 billion a year due to its 10-time costlier construction (1990 estimate).  Added to it is the loss of $6.12 billion per annum due to superfluous flow of 30 million acre feet of water from Kotri Barrage into the Arabian Sea. In mangrove season, rivers flow at 84 per cent while only at 40 per cent during Rabi season. The present water storage capacity in Pakistan is hardly 11.77MAF that is only about eight per cent of the annual flow.

Legislative assemblies of three of our provinces, barring the Punjab province, have been bitterly opposing construction of the Kala Bagh Dam. Are they justified? To answer the question we have to look into various aspects of the construction of the dam, particularly feasibility and repercussions of constructing the dam. After enactment of the Eighteenth amendment, building of dams is now a provincial subject. The fact however remains that water security is more a national subject than a provincial one.

Debate about pros and cons

 The construction of Kalabagh dam is predicted to supply over 4 million acre-feet additional water to Sindh. While explaining benefits of Kalabagh Dam, WAPDA engineer Shamsul Mulk stated that China would be generating around 30,000 megawatts of electricity from dams. “Even India has more than 4,000 dams,” he said. “We lose billions due to the non-construction of dams.”

Concluding remarks

The opposition to the Kalabagh Dam is whimsical rooted in political rhetoric. According to the United Nations’ forecast, water scarcity would be Pakistan’s greatest problem in current century.

The country has been in the grip of a severe energy crisis for several years. No one even talks about Kalabagh Dam. Towards the end of the 1980s, Pakistan met 70 percent of its energy needs from hydel (hydroelectric) power and 30 percent from thermal energy. By 2012-13, Pakistan became dependent on thermal energy generated from costly furnace oil and diesel by up to 44 percent, with the remaining 56 percent being generated from other, mainly thermal, sources. This change had a cascading effect on prices and the consumers’ bills skyrocketed.

Hydel energy remains largely neglected, despite its low production cost. Many public sector electricity generation plants have outlived their utility. Without cheaper electricity, circular debt will continue to mount. Circular debt, accumulated in the power sector, is a handy excuse for the energy crisis. This debt piles up when downstream customers fail to pay their bills to upstream suppliers (or producers) in time. Who are the defaulters? They include not only ordinary citizens, but also the provinces, the public sector, influential corporations and powerful individuals (including political tycoons). To continue supplying power, the thermal producer has to borrow (and later pay interest charges and repay the contracted loan) and find alternative financial sources, unless the government makes the bounteous payment. The solution is simple: power distribution companies should promptly pay their dues to the generation companies.

However, circular debt is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many other factors blighting the energy scenario. The government needs to evolve a policy in which the power sector is prioritized.

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Rosatom Empowering Africa

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After the first Russia-Africa summit held in Sochi, authorities have been moving to build on this new chapter of Russia‘s relations with African countries. As set in the joint declaration, the two sides have outlined comprehensive goals and tasks for the further development of Russia-Africa cooperation in significant areas including science and technology.

Business interest in Africa is steadily increasing and Russian companies, among them Rosatom, are ready to work with African partners. It is largely acknowledged that energy (construction and repair of power generation facilities as well as in peaceful nuclear energy and the use of renewable energy sources) is an important area of the economic cooperation between Russia and Africa.

Ryan Collyer is the Regional Vice-President of Rosatom for Sub-Saharan Africa, and his key responsibilities include overseeing, implementing and managing all Russian nuclear projects in Sub-Sahara African region. In this insightful and wide-ranging interview with Kester Kenn Klomegah early April 2021, Ryan Collyer discusses efforts toward providing nuclear power, training of nuclear specialists, the main challenges and the future plans for Africa.

Here are the interview excerpts:

Even before the first Russia-Africa summit held in October 2019, several African countries have shown a keen interest in building nuclear power plants. What is the current situation (overview) moving from mere interest to realizing concrete results in Africa?

It is important to note that nuclear is not new to Africa and Africa is not new to nuclear. South Africa has successfully operated Safari 1 research reactor for over 55 years and Koeberg nuclear power plant for over three decades. At one point, South Africa was the second-largest exporter of the life-saving medical isotope, Molybdenum 99, in the world. There are also currently research reactors in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and Ghana.

Another source is the cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Thanks to that, many countries like Benin, Ethiopia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and others benefit from modern nuclear technologies applications in healthcare and agriculture. In Zambia, a cancer disease hospital received much-needed support, and now over 20,000 patients have been diagnosed and treated at the hospital. Benin’s soybean farmers could triple their income using the benefits of nuclear irradiation. In Tanzania, its island of Zanzibar became tsetse-free thanks to the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT).

Many other African countries are already working on joining the atomic club in one form or another, whether it be the construction of a Nuclear Power Plant or a research reactor or the development of nuclear infrastructure or the training of professional personnel. In this undertaking, Russia is a trusted partner for many. We have signed intergovernmental agreements in the peaceful use of atomic energy with Algeria (2014), Ghana (2015), Egypt (2015), Ethiopia (2019), Republic of Congo (2019), Nigeria (2012, 2016), Rwanda (2018), South Africa (2004), Sudan (2017), Tunisia (2016), Uganda (2019) and Zambia (2016). Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) were signed with Kenya in 2016 and Morocco in 2017. 

How would you estimate the potential nuclear energy requirements in Africa? How is that compared to other alternative power sources such as solar and hydro-power?

Today, 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa (one-out-of-two people) do not have access to electricity. Any significant change is not forthcoming, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Estimations show that 530 million people (one-out-of-three people) will remain without electricity in 2030. As GDP growth and urbanization in Africa escalate, the power demand will increase exponentially. Today the electricity demand in Africa is 700 terawatt-hours (TWh), with the North African economies and South Africa accounting for over 70% of the total.

According to the IEA estimate scenarios, by 2040, the electricity demand will more than double in the Stated Policies Scenario to over 1600 TWh. It may reach 2300 TWh in the Africa Case Scenario. It is undeniable that Africa needs vast amounts of sustainable energy to transform societies, grow economies, and reduce the global carbon footprint.

No single source of electricity can provide these amounts and considerably lower greenhouse emissions. A healthy mix of several intermittent and base load options can satisfy these criteria and allow for the economy and society’s prosperity. The top-5 performers in the Energy Trilemma Index by World Energy Council have a combination of both nuclear and renewable resources to balance all three dimensions: equity, security, and environmental sustainability, thus enabling their prosperity and competitiveness. For example, Switzerland has over 30% nuclear, Sweden roughly 40% nuclear, Finland – 18%, and France – over 70% nuclear.

Apart from energy poverty, nuclear can solve other continent problems, from low industrialization to advances in science, healthcare, and agriculture, thus propelling the continent towards the African Union’s Agenda 2063 Master plan, which envisions Africa’s transformation into the global powerhouse of the future. So, we are advocating a diverse energy mix that utilizes all available resources, including renewables and nuclear, to ensure climate resilience and environmental safety, social equity, and supply security.

Can you discuss concretely about the planned nuclear projects in South Africa, Zambia and Egypt? Say why these have still not taken off as planned, the necessary agreements have been signed though?

Our plans for projects in Egypt and Zambia are proceeding at the pace acceptable for both parties. In Egypt, we plan to commission four power units with VVER-1200 type reactors with a capacity of 1200 MW each by 2028. We will also supply nuclear fuel throughout the entire NPP life cycle (60 years), provide training services, and carry out maintenance and repairs within ten years after each unit’s start. With our initial agreement signed in 2015, and necessary infrastructure still being put in place, the El Dabaa project is firmly underway. 

Our project in Zambia, Center for Nuclear Science and Technology, is implemented in several stages, starting with a Multipurpose Irradiation Center. Once the Center is built, a training complex within it will contribute to building capacity in nuclear technology by providing opportunities for training students of different degrees from Bachelor to PhD and carrying out advanced experiments and research that provides a new level of practical competencies. With Zambia being new to nuclear, the installation of infrastructure is the key priority at the moment. 

As for South Africa, we maintain a cordial working relationship with crucial nuclear industry bodies and are monitoring their ambitions to add 2500MW of new nuclear to the grid very closely, but we are not currently engaged in any active nuclear projects. The initial 9600MW nuclear new build program in South Africa was halted in 2017 as a result of internal procedural issues of the country. It is important to note that the 9600MW program did not make it past the Request for Information (RFI) stage, and Rosatom was only one of many vendors interested to bid for the project.  The program was then downsized to 2500MW and restarted in 2020 as the country grapples with power shortages due to an aging coal-fired fleet. 

To what extent, the use of nuclear power safe and secured for Africa? What technical precautions (measures) can you suggest for ensuring nuclear security?

A nuclear power program is a complex undertaking that requires meticulous planning, preparation, and investment in time, institutions, and human resources. The development of such a program does not happen overnight and can take several years to implement. All countries, which embark on the path towards the peaceful use of nuclear technologies, do so by adopting the IAEA Milestone Approach framework. This approach provides newcomer countries with well-structured guidance and a clear to-do list, which gives them a clear understanding of how to safely and effectively implement and manage their civil nuclear program. This approach includes necessary policy and legal framework, human capital development, installation of management and regulatory bodies, implementation of safeguards, and educating the public. 

Since many of our partners are relatively new to the technology, we are able to provide full support to them on their path towards achieving their national nuclear energy programs, this at all of its stages of the project and in full accordance with IAEA regulations. 

Do you also envisage transferring technology by training local specialists and how does this currently look like, how many specialists per year undergoing training in Russia?

The ultimate goal in our projects is to help our partners gain independence in terms of human capital. Still, it will need at least a decade of education and training of many young people and professionals. 

As part of our commitment, we assist our partner countries with training local personnel via a government-sponsored bursary program by the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education. Since 2010, hundreds of students from Algeria, Ghana, Egypt, Zambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, and South Africa have been receiving nuclear and related education at leading Russian educational institutions. Currently, over 1500 students from Sub-Saharan Africa study in Russia under bachelor, master and post-doc programs, 256 students are on nuclear and related programs. 

Another aspect is short-term training for professionals – managers and specialists in nuclear. The topics of training range from nuclear energy, technology management and technical regulations to safety features of Russian designs in nuclear. 

In your view, why many African countries opting for renewable energy? Is it nuclear power affordable for Africa? With this trend, what is Rosatom’s plan for future cooperation with African countries?

Currently, renewables show the fastest-growing curve in meeting this demand with the solar potential of 10 TW, the hydro of 350 GW, the wind of 110 GW, and the geothermal energy sources of 15 GW. Many are easy to install and demand little in terms of investment. 

However, the critical question regarding these sources is reliability. US Energy Department estimates show that nuclear power plants produce maximum power over 93% of the time during the year. That’s about 1.5 to 2 times more than natural gas and coal units and 2.5 to 3.5 times more reliable than wind and solar plants. To replace a nuclear power plant, one would need two coal or three to four renewable plants of the same size to generate the same amount of electricity onto the grid.

Another critical question is the cost. Most of the funds are needed to during the construction period. Building a large-scale nuclear reactor takes thousands of workers, massive amounts of steel and concrete, thousands of components, and several systems to provide electricity, cooling, ventilation, information, control and communication. However, apart from a reliable source of electricity throughout several decades (from 40 to 60 years minimum), the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the construction of new NPPs is competitive compared to other green energy sources like wind and solar. It is also worth noting such an economic advantage of nuclear power as the electricity cost’s stability and predictability.

Our experience shows substantial dividends for any country that joins the international nuclear community. We are talking about thousands of new jobs, quantum leaps in R&D, and the creation of entirely new sectors of the economy. According to our estimates, US$1 invested in nuclear power plants under the Rosatom project brings in US$ 1.9 to local suppliers, US$4.3 for the country’s GDP, and US$1.4 to the Treasury as tax revenues. 

We have recently calculated even more specific data based on El Dabaa nuclear power station. During the construction period, the NPP project will increase the country’s GDP by over US$4 billion or 1%, bring around US$570 million as tax revenue, and employ over 70% of local personnel. Apart from the NPP itself, Egypt will have a new seaport, several roads, and schools constructed. After the start of operations, over 19% of the population or 20 million people will have access to electricity, and the NPP will prevent over 14 million tons of CO2 emissions annually.

In general, I would like to say that while the capital cost for nuclear energy may be higher, the reliable energy that it produces over its lifespan is very affordable. Beyond this, the inclusion of nuclear energy into the energy mix itself gives a powerful qualitative impetus for the economy, the establishment of high-technology-based industries and, as a result, the growth of export potential and quality of life.

Reference: Rosatom offers integrated clean energy solutions across the nuclear supply chain and beyond. With 70 years’ experience, the company is the world leader in high-performance solutions for all kinds of nuclear power plants. It also works in the segments of wind generation, nuclear medicine, energy storage and others. Products and services of the nuclear industry enterprises are supplied to over 50 countries around the world.

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