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    South Korea coming for a slice of Africa's emerging nuclear power market

    March 21, 2023 - The Africa Report


      Africa's ongoing industrialisation and electricity deficit make venturing into nuclear power inevitable. The World Bank, for instance, estimates that at the current electrification rates, over half a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa will still be without electricity in 2030.

      African nuclear power ideas and agenda have so far been shaped and funded by global superpowers such as the US, China and Russia, raising fears that it could turn out to be an extension of a global political schism at a time when Russia's war with Ukraine has entered its second year.

      South Korea, one of the five countries in the world that can export nuclear power, is coming for a share of the continent's market.

      At the Africa Nuclear Business Platform in Kampala last week, South Korea had the largest delegation and its expo tent was bigger than any other exhibitor. Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power signed a memorandum of understanding on nuclear energy cooperation with Uganda, as Kampala has an ambition of producing nuclear energy by 2030.

      Though non-binding, Chaseop Kim, General Manager for Overseas Business Development at KHNP tells The Africa Report that the MoU is vital since it will unlock corroboration channels.

      'It's a framework on how we can make cooperation in the near future. First, we are focusing on human resource management because building a nuclear power plant requires well-trained human resources,' he says.

      During the nuclear business forum, South Korea was selling its standard design Advanced Nuclear Power Reactor (APR) 1400 which produces 1400MW, APR 1000 which generates 1000MW, as well as the Small Modular Reactor (SMR). Uganda has shown interest in the APR 1000 model, Chaseop tells The Africa Report.

      KHNP will also work with Uganda to ensure the country meets International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) rigorous requirements for setting up a nuclear plant.

      In addition to Uganda, Chaseop says they are also having discussions with countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya. 'We have relationships…we are already having discussions with those countries. Some of the countries [are] focusing on small modular reactors. We are also having discussions for large-scale nuclear plants.'

      About a dozen African countries have shown firm interest in developing nuclear energy. Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan have engaged with the IAEA to assess their readiness to embark on a nuclear programme. Algeria, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia are also studying the possibility of nuclear power.

      South Africa is the only country in Africa with a nuclear power plant. Egypt is currently constructing a nuclear plant worth $25bn, with credit being provided by Russia through a loan. The project, whose construction began in July last year, is being developed by the Russian state energy corporation Rosatom and will produce 4.8GW.

      Last year, Ghana said it was in the final stages of announcing a site for a nuclear power plant, including the technology to be used and the contractor who will build it.

      Financing the dreams

      Though African countries have shown ambitions, funding for nuclear power technology which is expensive remains a key obstacle for the continent, according to Ibrahim Ababou, head of Africa and Middle East at the Nuclear Business Platform, the organiser of the Africa Nuclear Business Platform.

      Ababou argues that there is a need for the international community to push financial institutions to provide financing for nuclear power given that many international banks don't provide financing for nuclear power at all. 'That is harming the sector,' he says.

      'Not just African countries, all countries that are interested in nuclear energy should lobby for the lifting of the ban on nuclear financing,' Ababou tells The Africa Report. 'Even countries that are exporting. Financing is a big issue in any country coming into nuclear space.'

      Countries that are looking at nuclear development have to look for companies with funds or organisations that can borrow from their home countries. For instance, the Egypt nuclear plant is being financed through a build-own-operate scheme. Russia is providing 85% of the financing. Rosatom will manage the plant after construction and will be selling power to the Egyptian government.

      Asked what financing model KHNP is bringing to Africa, Chaseop also hinted at a build-own-operate model. 'We have various options for financing. When we come to the contract negotiations stage, we can have these specific details on how financing can be done,' he says.

      Big power rivalry

      Both representatives of China and Russia's state-owned nuclear-producing companies as well as the US government-backed but privately owned NuScale were present in Kampala attending the nuclear business platform. The Russian war in Ukraine has upped the tension between Moscow and the west and Africa has emerged as a continent that everyone is competing to have on its side.

      Competition for Africa among global powers could extend to Africa's nuclear power programmes, but there is a solution, says Enobot Agboraw, executive secretary of the African Commission on Nuclear Energy. To get politics out of the continent's nuclear energy ambitions, Agboraw says, African states must embrace a regional approach envisaged by the African Union when it set up the African Commission on Nuclear Energy.

      'If African countries come together working through the African Commission on Nuclear Energy, it takes out politics from the equation,' Agboraw tells The Africa Report.

      'It's a broad African consultation forum where we brainstorm and choose the best technologies for our continent irrespective of the politics of individual countries. It will be the way to immunise the nuclear power development in Africa from politics or from big power competition.'

      Chaseop says they have found it easier to kick-start talks with many African countries because they are 'open to discussions with any country,' rather than restricting themselves to global superpowers.

      Egypt plant spared

      The Egypt nuclear plant started months after the invasion of Ukraine. Had Russia's nuclear energy been sanctioned by the west, perhaps, its start date would have been delayed.

      Summit organiser Ababou tells The Africa Report that one of the key reasons why Russia was spared nuclear sanctions is because Rosatom has connections for nuclear programmes with other countries around the world. 'If they put sanctions on nuclear, western countries would hurt their own nuclear energy programme.'

      And by starting the construction amidst the war, Ababou says, Moscow made 'a statement of its commitment to construct the nuclear power plant. The work is going normally as of now.'


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