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Should Africa go nuclear?

Posted on Monday, 29 November 2010 10:50

Africa needs more power, quickly. Governments are considering nuclear power as a serious option for the future. South Africa is already committed to nuclear energy and plans to increase its investment. Kenya is looking for sites along its coast to build nuclear power plants with the hope to start generating nuclear energy by 2020.

While nuclear investment could provide a catalyst to increase science and engineering capacity, it is also hugely expensive and comes with unsolved questions over saftey and waste disposal.

Join in the debate below on whether Africa should go nuclear.

NO: “Nuclear energy does not create jobs or wealth”

Bobby Peek, director of Groundwork, South Africa

Nuclear energy means a continuation of the same development trajectory that has seen the majority of Africans become poorer over the last century. Growth rate is the big buzz in Africa. But growth for whom? The South African finance minister calls for a 7% growth rate, Angola has a 15% growth rate and Mozambique’s is around 8%. Yet in these economies poverty is growing and is juxtaposed with immense visible concentrated wealth.

Nuclear energy is about furthering the extraction economy that has created wealth in the global North and amongst Southern elites. It will result in increased mining, the further destruction of the ecology, provision of cheap energy to large corporates such as BHP Billiton, and an intensification of pollution and climate change. Nuclear energy is a one way dead-end road for Africa. The continent needs a decentralised, locally-controlled energy model that provides the basis for decent jobs, affordable basic services, access to the basic goods of life and that will provide clean and healthy environments.

YES: “It opens doors to development”

David Maina, Director, Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology, University of Nairobi, Kenya

Africa should go nuclear. Most

of us Africans consider nuclear technology as a challenging and dangerous field that

should be left to the developed nations. And yet we are able to engage ourselves and

be successful in cutting edge science in areas like medicine and computer science. We

should accept that we can become nuclear scientists and be able to operate nuclear

reactors in our own countries.

One of the main applications of technology is

to provide electrical power. No nation has ever developed without an adequate

supply of electrical power. Currently, most African states do not have adequate and

affordable power. This slows down their economic and social development.

Without adequate and affordable power, it is impossible to industrialise, develop a

reliable transport system or provide proper medical services to rural people. It is quite

telling that most of the Asian Tigers are now using nuclear technology for their power


In addition to nuclear technology contributing to achieving electrical power

needs, it opens doors to other areas of development. One of these is the development

of human and infrastructure capacity for nuclear technology. In particular, African

countries will have to invest in university education so that academic programmes are

developed and implemented. These courses will not be for just nuclear engineering alone: we must appreciate that other disciplines will be involved such as medical physics,

radiation protection and radioactive waste management, radiation biology and computer


We know the costs of going nuclear are high but maybe it high time

African countries started thinking in blocks. For example, the East African countries could

combine forces and put up nuclear reactors to provide power for the entire region.

Some of the challenges to consider are the radioactive waste disposal and security. In

these matters Africa does not need to reinvent the wheel: it can simply do what the developed

nations are doing. If Africa has to develop and compete with other nations we must

make bold decisions. Deciding to go nuclear will be one of them.