Russia Nuclear Energy Deal: A Blessing Or Curse For Africa?

Russia Nuclear Energy Deal: A Blessing Or Curse For Africa?
Russia Nuclear Energy Deal: A Blessing Or Curse For Africa?
Source: Russian News Agency TASS|Photo credit:Anadolu Agencyย /ย Contributor

One of the problems that Africa has to deal with is energy. According to DW (Deutsche Welle), nearly 600 million Africans (about 57 percent) lack access to electricity. However, those that have it still battle with frequent power outages. No doubt, African governments are desperately searching for solutions. Perhaps, this is why many African countries have embraced the Russia nuclear energy deal. This was one of the talking points of the recently concluded Russia-Africa Summit. Speaking in the presence of representatives from 55 countries, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin said,

โ€œRosatomย is prepared to help our African partners in creating a nuclear industry [with] the construction of research centers based on multifunctional reactors.โ€

The Russia nuclear energy deal was high on the agenda of the recently concluded summit in Sochi. Moscow is promoting nuclear energy as the solution to Africaโ€™s power crisis. The discussion on how Russia could contribute to Africaโ€™s development featured Rosatom CEO and Roland Msiska, the head of Zambia Atomic Energy Agency. Rosatom is Russiaโ€™s state-backed nuclear energy company.

The ongoing drought in southern Africa has led to a drop in water levels. This has had an adverse effect on hydroelectric power. Therefore, Msiska saw the Russia-Africa Summit as an opportunity to promote nuclear energy as an alternative to hydropower. Already, Rosatom has signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with about 18 African countries. Rwanda is the new entrant in the Russia nuclear energy deal. Speaking at the summit, Rwandaโ€™s minister of infrastructure, Claver Gatete said,

โ€œWe have a dream: we want to become a highly developed country by 2035 and a country with a high standard of living by 2050. Nuclear energy should be the main driver for achieving the goals facing our country.โ€

The skepticism surrounding Russia nuclear energy deal

South Africa is the only African country with a fully functional nuclear power plant. However, it is yet to fully deal with its energy problems. Environmental activists are kicking against the Russia nuclear energy deal for obvious reasons. First, there is the question of the safety of nuclear reactors to the environment. Also, nuclear power comes at a huge cost which may further plunge African countries into long-term debts. Nigeriaโ€™s Environment Right Action member, Jakpor Philip said,

โ€œWe continue to hear,ย for instance,ย that nuclear energy is clean,ย but in truth, it is not clean because you need a lot of water to keep the nuclear plant cool. You need an independent power to keep powering 24/7. If you need that much power to keep that plant running,ย then it shows itโ€™s not clean.โ€ย 

Others believe Russia is only trying to increase their foreign revenue. Russian is still under European Union and the United States sanctions. However, diversifying its economic partnership will make the economic implications of the sanctions less severe. The huge infrastructural deficit in Africa provides Moscow an opportunity to come in. The University of Nairobiโ€™s head of nuclear science and technology, Michael Gatari said,

โ€œWe should have in-country, competent, well-trained manpower not depending on expatriatesโ€™ support because that would be very expensive in the long run. Africa is not going to get a free reactor. They are selling their technology. So the issue of helping does not come in. ย Of course, there is a component of โ€˜we will train your people, weโ€™ll do this,โ€™ but still, if you calculate the cost, itโ€™s we who cough. So the African countries should move into it with a business vision.โ€

The extent of Russiaโ€™s partnership with African countries

With the signing of Russia nuclear energy deal, Rosatom was contracted to build a $29 billion nuclear power plant in Egypt. The joint project scheduled to commence next year will generate 4,800MW of electricity. Rosatom is also helping Uganda, Rwanda, and the Republic of Congo to establish nuclear facilities. There is also a planned nuclear reactor in Nigeria which may help solve the power crisis in the West African nation. According to Interfax, Rosatom is in talks with Ethiopia to build a nuclear power station.

Russia Nuclear Energy Deal: A Blessing Or Curse For Africa?
Photo source: World Nuclear Association

Besides the Russia nuclear energy deal, the President is also calling for the doubling of trade with African countries in the next four to five years. Moscow said it has already written off over $20 billion in Africa debt. Moscow has enjoyed considerable success in selling arms to different African countries. However, it still lags behind the European Union, China, India, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates who are Africaโ€™s top trade partners. According to Putin,

โ€œMany Russian companies have long and successfully worked with partners from the most different sectors of the African economy and plan to expand their influence in Africa. We, of course, will provide support at the state level.โ€

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