In the Central African region, countries like Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea and Congo DRC are plagued by growing concerns about a shortage in energy. These countries make up the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).
A shortage in energy in the ECCAS sub region has ignited debates on the alternative use of nuclear energy as a sustainable source of energy for Central Africa. Nuclear energy was discovered in 1896 by a French physicist Henri Becquerel. He found that photographic plates that had been stored near uranium behaved as if they had been exposed to light.
Nuclear power constitutes only a fraction of Africa’s energy supply. There are only two nuclear power reactors on the entire continent of Africa. These power reactors are both located in Koeberg, South Africa.
South Africa accounts for 60 percent of all of Africa’s energy production. It is disturbing to know that Africa as a whole generates only 3.1 percent of the world’s electricity. The on-going debate about the use of nuclear energy as a substitute for energy is not solely en vogue in the developed world, but also in Africa especially in Central Africa where the energy crisis is really chronic. Proponents, such as the World Nuclear Association and International Atomic Energy Agency, contend that nuclear power is a sustainable energy source that reduces carbon emissions. Opponents, such as Greenpeace International believe that nuclear power poses many threats to people and the environment. If abatement of global warming is indeed the main reason for increased use of nuclear energy, then we need to be satisfied that it compares sufficiently well against truly renewable energy sources.
Uranium prospection and or exploration are being carried out in Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea and Congo DRC by companies such as Mega Uranium Cameroon plc, Uranex SA, Resource Generation Ltd, African Aura Resources Ltd., Ridgeway Energy. Uramin Inc., Uranio AG, Xenon S.A., Les Mines De Centrafrique (CAR) and Elemental Minerals Ltd. But this uranium prospection is taking long to materialise into actual nuclear energy production.
Nuclear power plant accidents include the Three Mile Island accident of 1979, the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011. However, the safety record of nuclear power is good when compared with many other energy technologies. Research into safety improvements is continuing and nuclear fusion may be used in the future. The US has extended the licenses of almost half its nuclear reactors to 60 years, and plans to build another dozen are under serious consideration. China has 25 nuclear power reactors under construction, with plans to build many more by 2020.However, Japan’s 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster instigated a rethink of nuclear energy policy in many countries, including countries in Africa. Germany decided to close all its reactors by 2022, and Italy has banned nuclear power. Following Fukushima, the International Energy Agency halved its estimate of additional nuclear generating capacity to be built by 2035.
Several African nations, including Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Namibia, and Nigeria, are seriously considering nuclear power. The West African state of Guinea is the latest country in Africa to announce that it is seeking nuclear power. ECCAS on its part seems reluctant to delve into this energy pursuit or it is still scared of taking an adventure into an area of threat to life especially with respect to the Japan’s 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
Igor Khripunov, associate director in charge of projects focusing on security culture and nuclear terrorism at the University of Georgia’s Center for International Trade and Security, argues that uneven regional distribution of energy resources significantly contributes to the energy crisis especially in Central Africa. Of the 53 countries in Africa, a few of them have large energy potential. Oil and gas are mostly concentrated in Algeria, Nigeria, and Libya; hydropower capacity is the most evenly spread, but the highest concentration is on the Congo River. Coal is mostly found in southern Africa; and geothermal potential exists in eastern Africa. Khripunov adds that together with South Africa, the Maghreb countries like Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania, account for more than 80 percent of Africa’s electricity generating capacity. As a result, in the absence of adequate trans-African resource-sharing arrangements and infrastructure, many African countries suffer from scarce energy resources and must pay high prices to import energy.
It is evident that uneven regional distribution of energy resources significantly contributes to the energy crisis especially in Central Africa. All the same ECCAS countries need to revisit their energy policy and pivot it towards nuclear energy. It is possible for an understanding to be reached by ECCAS with member countries rich in uranium production like Cameroon, Chad,Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea and Congo DRC for a power plant or reactor to be constructed in Central Africa. This agreement could also be extended to the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) to serve both West and Central Africa.
Though fears continue to grow with respect to Japan’s 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, this should not be an impediment for ECCAS to entertain a nuclear energy agenda. Besides the safety record of nuclear power is good when compared with many other energy technologies. There is need to speed up research into safety improvements and nuclear fusion. ECCAS needs this to solve the chronic energy crisis in the sub region.
Chofor Che is an associate of
AfricanLiberty.org and a Cameroonian academic.[ This article is syndicated by AfricanLiberty.org]