Any lessons for Africa from the Fukushima accident?

First of all, I would like to share my condolences to the families and friends of thos killed by the Japan earthquake and tsunami, and my sympathies to those affected in any way by the disaster.

A disaster that has left everyone shocked by the consequences of two natural disasters, and the potential outcome of a man-made one as the Fukushima nuclear plant faces a posible meltdown.

The damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. Photograph: DigitalGlobe/AFP/Getty Images

Beyond the solidarity and sympathies with those affected by the events, this crisis has prompted a renewed debate on the pors and cons of nuclear power. Germany for example has suspended the extension of life of all the country’s plants.

So, does the debate over nuclear power affect Africa? Not very much it would seem, given that South Africa has the only two nuclear reactor on the continent.

However, the continent recurrent energy needs (evidenced by the rolling blackouts common in numerous African countries, from Ghana to Nigeria and Tanzania – and blogged before in depth here) has prompted the debate to emerge during the past few months:

A year ago for example Senegalese Energy Minister Samuel Sarr announced his country hoped to become a nuclear energy producer, by 2020. See this interesting CSM article.

And at the end of last year, it emerged the Kenyan government was also exploring the possibility and seeking a suitable site for what would be its first nuclear power plant. Related to this, The Africa Report also run a debate on whether Africa should go nuclear:

NO: “Nuclear energy does not create jobs or wealth”

Bobby Peek, director of Groundwork, South Africa

Nuclear energy means a continuation of the same development trajectory that has seen the majority of Africans become poorer over the last century. Growth rate is the big buzz in Africa. But growth for whom? …

Nuclear energy is about furthering the extraction economy that has created wealth in the global North and amongst Southern elites. It will result in increased mining, the further destruction of the ecology, provision of cheap energy to large corporates such as BHP Billiton, and an intensification of pollution and climate change. Nuclear energy is a one way dead-end road for Africa. The continent needs a decentralised, locally-controlled energy model that provides the basis for decent jobs, affordable basic services, access to the basic goods of life and that will provide clean and healthy environments.

YES: “It opens doors to development”

David Maina, Director, Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology, University of Nairobi, Kenya

Africa should go nuclear. Most of us Africans consider nuclear technology as a challenging and dangerous field that should be left to the developed nations. And yet we are able to engage ourselves and be successful in cutting edge science in areas like medicine and computer science. We should accept that we can become nuclear scientists and be able to operate nuclear reactors in our own countries…

In addition to nuclear technology contributing to achieving electrical power needs, it opens doors to other areas of development. One of these is the development of human and infrastructure capacity for nuclear technology. In particular, African countries will have to invest in university education so that academic programmes are developed and implemented. …

If Africa has to develop and compete with other nations we must make bold decisions. Deciding to go nuclear will be one of them.

But nuclear power already affects a number of countries on  the continent, even if no energy is produced. See for example, this table of top uranium producers, withtwo African countries among the top-6

Production from mines (tonnes U)

Country 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Kazakhstan 3300 3719 4357 5279 6637 8521 14 020
Canada 10457 11597 11628 9862 9476 9000 10173
Australia 7572 8982 9516 7593 8611 8430 7982
Namibia 2036 3038 3147 3067 2879 4366 4626
Russia 3150 3200 3431 3262 3413 3521 3564
Niger 3143 3282 3093 3434 3153 3032 3243
Uzbekistan 1598 2016 2300 2260 2320 2338 2429
USA 779 878 1039 1672 1654 1430 1453
Ukraine (est) 800 800 800 800 846 800 840
China (est) 750 750 750 750 712 769 750
South Africa 758 755 674 534 539 655 563
Brazil 310 300 110 190 299 330 345
India (est) 230 230 230 177 270 271 290
Czech Repub. 452 412 408 359 306 263 258
Malawi 104
Romania (est) 90 90 90 90 77 77 75
Pakistan (est) 45 45 45 45 45 45 50
France 0 7 7 5 4 5 8
Germany 104 77 94 65 41 0 0
total world 35 574 40 178 41 719 39 444 41 282 43 853 50 772
tonnes U3O8 41 944 47 382 49 199 46 516 48 683 51 716 59 875
percentage of world demand 65% 63% 64% 68% 76%

WNA Market Report data

And also recently, Tanzania became a uranium producing country generating another interesting debate on whether this would be a resource or curse for the country. A possibility that generates insecurity among some of the population direcly affected by it – as Franza writes on her blog.

Lots of interesting questions and intense debates that will withough a doubt be made all the more intense by the Fukushima accident.

What’s your take?

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