By Cheikh Niane and NJ Ayuk Globally, 800 million people lack electricity and 80% of them live in Africa. With the continent's population expected to nearly double by 2050, our energy needs are only growing.
Generating reliable electricity for 2.5 billion souls in a safe, green, and sustainable manner will prove no small feat.
Fortunately, one solution does meet those competing criteria: nuclear energy. No single power source is a panacea, but nuclear answers many of Africa's energy needs.
It's a safe, reliable, long-term power source that is arguably more eco-friendly than the most advanced forms of wind and solar energy. Better yet, small modular reactors (SMRs) are addressing the issue of nuclear's large startup costs.
SMRs' largest components can be built in-factory and shipped to site, which makes them significantly more affordable and scalable for developing nations. I'm encouraged to see Ghana pursuing this technology, and South Africa and Egypt operating and building traditional plants.
I can only hope that other nations follow suit nuclear remains a strong weapon against energy poverty. Safe Pop culture has created myths about the dangers of nuclear energy.
Even taking the Chernobyl, Russia explosion and Fukushima, Japan evacuations into account, nuclear remains ranked as the world's second safest energy source. At .
03 deaths (per terawatt hour (the average power flow over 1012 hours), it's nearly as safe as solar (.02 deaths per terawatt hour).
Coal, on the other hand, sees 24 deaths per terawatt hour. Tellingly, the U.
S. and France the world's largest producers of nuclear energy have never seen a serious reactor accident.
In short, responsible nations should ignore unscientific fearmongering and continue to work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which helps nations develop safe and compliant nuclear programs. ReliableNuclear easily holds the crown in terms of reliability of all energy sources it has the highest capacity factor, which means that nuclear plants produce at maximum capacity 92% of the time.
Contrast this with wind and solar, which operate at full capacity 35% and 25% of the time, respectively. Unlike nuclear fission, these renewables produce at the mercy of weather.
Nuclear plants also require less frequent maintenance, so they operate for longer and more consistent stretches. This matters because we need reliable tools to combat energy poverty.
We can't ask the 900 million Africans who use dirty or hazardous cooking fuel to place their sole trust in wind or solar a grid that operates 25-35% of the time does not constitute a significant step forward. Renewables do have a place in Africa's future but our current strategy needs to incorporate more tried and true methods.
GreenLast July, the European Union began to acknowledge nuclear power as a sustainable energy source. Cynics attribute this new label solely to rising oil prices, but nuclear's green benefits have always been clear: It's a zero emission, long term, plentiful source that demands little land and generates negligible amounts of waste (The nuclear waste created by one American's electricity use over 70 years would fit into a soda can.
) And despite the enthusiasm for renewables like solar and wind, nuclear power outstrips both in sustainability.By its very nature, nuclear power is eco-friendly: Reactors create energy by fission (the splitting of atoms) so they emit virtually no greenhouse gasses or pollutants.
The International Energy Agency estimates that nuclear energy enables the globe to avoid 1.5 gigatonnes of emissions each year (the equivalent of what 200 million cars emit annually).
Nuclear facilities also use very little land. A 1,000-megawatt nuclear facility requires one square mile to operate to generate the same amount of power, a solar photovoltaic plant would require 75 miles, and a wind farm 360 miles.
In terms of land footprint, nuclear is literally over a hundred times more efficient than these much-touted renewables. Nuclear power also creates minimal byproducts, which Africa is well suited to manage.
Literally all of the nuclear waste generated by the U.S.
in five decades could fit into a football field