Eyes Out! Is Nuclear Energy Tanzania’s Future for Power Needs? Can We Afford It?


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For years, we have been romanticizing the nuclear energy option that will inundate us with lots and lots of cleaner energy at a very affordable cost. Still, initial capital investments have been well over our financial shallow pockets, and too prohibitive. As a result, building a nuclear energy plant has been devised for external loans and aid but not within our budgetary means. However, the technologies behind the construction of nuclear plants keep ushering in a new era of seemingly affordable and very safe solutions that may change our attitudes towards them.

Construction of nuclear plants is akin to romancing a stone whereof we want it to be part of our national energy plan but we are snubbed by high-cost considerations. Apart from prohibitive budgets needed, experience has taught us that initial budgets are not the real ones as costs keep climbing the roof like nobody’s business.

Then there are those unforeseen delays towards project completion, and in many cases, deferments are translated into increased costs till abandonment of the project is considered the smartest move. That act of pragmatism is viewed as an essential cost-cutting measure notwithstanding the sunken funds being gutted down to the ground!

Nuclear Reactor Technologies Available in The Market

Nuclear reactors are essential in the efforts to arrest global warming. The reactors do not generate carbon dioxide which contributes to most of the global warming. Moreover, a well-designed reactor can generate plenty of electricity and potentially be in a pole position to improve the quality of life of the people who are the chief beneficiaries. We shall look at four types of reactors to broaden our understanding of what we stand to gain once the technologies are being applied domestically.

Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Technologies

These types of reactors can be built in a factory, and transported to a site for installation. Since they are “plug and use” tend to have reasonable fixed costs and fewer delays. The smaller size also makes these reactors ideal for small electric grids and for locations that cannot support large reactors, offering utilities the flexibility to scale production as demand changes.

Read: Why Investing in Namtumbo’s Uranium? A Lucrative Potential in Mining Sector in Tanzania

SMRs are defined as small nuclear reactors with a maximum output of 300 Megawatt electric (MWe) and can produce 7.2 million kWh per day. By comparison, large-size nuclear power plants have an output of over 1,000 MWe and can produce 24 million kWh per day.

Light Water Reactor (LWR) Technologies

These reactors have a remarkable safety and performance record. Extending the operating lifetimes of plants beyond 60 years and, where possible, making further improvements in their productivity will generate early benefits from research, development, and demonstration investments in nuclear power.

The family of nuclear reactors known as light-water reactors (LWR), cooled and moderated using ordinary water, tend to be simpler and cheaper to build than other types of nuclear reactors; due to these factors, they make up the vast majority of civil nuclear reactors and naval propulsion reactors in service throughout the world as of 2009.

LWRs can be subdivided into three categories – pressurized water reactors (PWRs), boiling water reactors (BWRs), and supercritical water reactors (SCWRs). The SCWR remains hypothetical as of 2009; it is a Generation IV design that is still a light-water reactor, but it is only partially moderated by light water and exhibits certain characteristics of a fast neutron reactor.

Though electricity generation capabilities are comparable between all these types of reactor, due to the aforementioned features, and the extensive experience with operations of the LWR, it is favoured in the vast majority of new nuclear power plants. In addition, light-water reactors make up the vast majority of reactors that power naval nuclear-powered vessels.

Advanced Reactor Technologies

As a result of research, nuclear energy will continue to provide clean, affordable, and secure energy while supporting the global greenhouse gas reduction goals by introducing advanced designs into new energy and industrial markets.

Advanced membrane reactor technologies provide opportunities for low-cost, high-efficiency, and low-emission hydrogen production from coal.

Versatile Test Reactor

This new research reactor is capable of performing irradiation testing at much higher neutron energy fluxes than what is currently available today.

Space Power Systems

These prototypes research possibilities which are beyond the capabilities of fuel cells, solar power and battery power supplies.

Nuclear Technologies Sourcing Hydrogen

Nuclear technologies can be used to produce hydrogen via several low-carbon processes: Low-temperature electrolysis of water. High-temperature steam electrolysis, using heat and electricity from nuclear reactors (at 600°C). High-temperature thermochemical production using nuclear heat (800-1000°C).

Distribution of Nuclear Power Applications in Developed World Versus Developing World

Nuclear power accounts for about 10% of electricity generation globally, rising to almost 20% in advanced economies. Developing countries account for less than 2% of nuclear power generation globally.

Nuclear technology uses the energy released by splitting the atoms of certain elements. It was first developed in the 1940s, and during the Second World War research initially focused on producing bombs. In the 1950s attention turned to the peaceful use of nuclear fission, controlling it for power generation. For more information, see the page on the History of Nuclear Energy.

Civil nuclear power can now boast around 20,000 reactor years of operating experience, and nuclear power plants are operational in 31 countries (plus Taiwan) worldwide. In fact, through regional transmission grids, many more countries depend in part on nuclear-generated power, particularly in Europe.

When the commercial nuclear industry began in the 1960s, there were clear boundaries between the industries of the East and West due to the Cold War. Today, the nuclear industry is characterized by international commerce. A reactor under construction in Asia today may have components supplied from South Korea, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Russia, and other countries. Similarly, uranium from Australia or Namibia may end up in a reactor in the UAE, having been converted in France, enriched in the Netherlands, deconverted in the UK and fabricated in South Korea.

Read Related: Drought and Energy Production in East Africa: Seeking Resilient Solutions

The uses of nuclear technology extend well beyond the provision of low-carbon energy. It helps control the spread of disease, assists doctors in their diagnosis and treatment of patients, and powers our most ambitious missions to explore space. These varied uses position nuclear technologies at the heart of the world’s efforts to achieve sustainable development.

In 2022 nuclear plants supplied 2545 TWh of electricity, down from 2653 TWh in 2021. Thirteen countries in 2022 produced at least one-quarter of their electricity from nuclear.

France gets up to around 70% of its electricity from nuclear energy, while Ukraine, Slovakia, Belgium and Hungary get about half from nuclear. Japan was used to relying on nuclear power for more than one-quarter of its electricity and is expected to return to somewhere near that level.

What about Motherland Africa?

Only two countries Egypt and South Africa have been involved in nuclear energy development for the generation of electricity with the latter producing it as shown below. Uganda, Ethiopia and Angola are among the African nations still in the planning stages of acquiring nuclear reactors to generate electricity.

Egypt started construction in July 2022 of the first of four Russian-designed VVER units to be built at the El Dabaa site on the Mediterranean coast. The second unit began construction in November 2022, the third in May 2023, and the fourth in January 2024. All four reactors are expected to be operational by 2030.

South Africa has two operable nuclear reactors, with a combined net capacity of 1.9 GWe, and is the only African country currently producing electricity from nuclear. In 2022, nuclear generated 4.9% of the country’s electricity. South Africa remains committed to plans for further capacity, but financing constraints are significant.

There is a clear need for new generating capacity around the world, both to replace old fossil fuel units, especially coal-fired ones, which emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and to meet increased demand for electricity in many countries. In 2021, 61% of electricity was generated from the burning of fossil fuels. Despite the strong support for, and growth in, intermittent renewable electricity sources in recent years, the fossil fuel contribution to power generation has not changed significantly in the last 15 years or so (66.5% in 2005).

Tanzanian Quest for Energy

Energy in Tanzania is fundamental to the nation’s projected economic growth, with estimates indicating that the economy could expand sevenfold by 2040, while energy demand is expected to increase by only 150% due to advancements in fuel efficiency. The country is actively enhancing its energy mix, primarily relying on natural gas for more than half of its electricity generation and significant contributions from hydropower, with oil primarily used for backup power.

Tanzania has a wide range of energy resources in abundance, which are not yet fully exploited. These include; wood fuel, other biomass fuels, hydropower, natural gas, coal, wind, geothermal, uranium and solar.

Also, read: In the Hot Seat: The Fuel Price Surge Reminds us to Invest in Renewable Energy

Tanzania has a large untapped renewable energy potential. Of the country’s total generation capacity, close to 80% of Tanzania’s electricity comes from renewable energy, with natural gas contributing 892.72MW and Hydroelectric power 573.70MW of the total 1,601.84 megawatts, as of April 2020.

According to the government of Tanzania, generation projects in the pipeline include Ruhudji (358MW), Kakono (87MW), Rumakali (222MW), Malagarasi (45MW), Kikonge (300MW), Kinyerezi I Extension (185MW) and Mtwara (300MW).

Solar power is widely used in rural areas, with 65% of rural households having access to solar energy sources. The inauguration of the Nyerere Hydropower Plant has increased Tanzania’s electricity generation capacity. Prior to this development, the country’s capacity stood at approximately 1900 MW. With the new plant, the total capacity has risen to over 2115 MW.

Hope for Nuclear Reactors Installed in Tanzania

In the last Russian Africa summit, we released our closely held secret of building nuclear plants. One nuclear plant may generate up to one Gigawatts eclipsing all the power generation capacities already installed. While the cost and financing of this investment have not been made clear Russia is one of the nuclear power nations that has shown keen interest in helping Africa overcome the barriers of building the reactors. The nuclear plant that Russia is building on Angola for example shows that initial costs of construction can be spread over a longer period.

President Yoweri Museveni announced the construction of two nuclear plants that will be generating a total of 15 Gigawatts at an estimated cost of $ 20 billion, a collaboration of Russia and South Korea. Obviously, due to the prohibitive nature of the projects, the initial costs will not be felt at once but scattered over a longer period of not less than 20 years.

Those two Ugandan nuclear plants once completed will turn the nation into a major power generator, distributor and seller. The pressure to depend on the vagaries of nature to generate electricity from water damming, solar and wind will ease but add to the mix of multi-prong approaches to sustainable power generation.

Efforts by African countries to seek and secure the nuclear option to generate electricity are laudable since it immensely helps reduce fossil dependence in the same. Moreover, if handled well the unfair Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) that have pushed up the cost of electricity will go down opening opportunities for many residents to access it for developmental purposes.

Of caution, the construction of a nuclear reactor may take between 4 to 8 years depending on the size and type of technology to be deployed. So, it is not a quick fix to our energy crunch. However, the availability of uranium in the country should help in sorting out the fuel aspects of nuclear energy albeit the processing may have to be outsourced outside the country. It is a debate for another day.

The author is a Development Administration specialist in Tanzania with over 30 years of practical experience, and has been penning down a number of articles in local printing and digital newspapers for some time now.

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