Thursday, August 9, 2007

Nuclear energy: is Africa ready?

Africa is experiencing exponential growth that it hasn't seen in many decades. This growth has restrained resources like electric generation. Many African countries are experiencing rolling blackouts and forcing many industries to use smog generating electric generators to provide the needed back-up for manufacturing. Some have stated that Nuclear is the way to go, because it potential provides a unlimited energy source and doesn't pollute the environment. However, atomic energy is very dangerous and can be unstable if not controlled or watched closely.

There has been two major Nuclear accidents in the world. The biggest accident occurred 1986 at Chernobyl in the older Soviet Union, the other was Three Mile Island accident near Harrisburg Pennsylvania in 1979. Both accidents essentially stopped Nuclear plant investment in both countries. France however has been able to to harness nuclear to generate about 80% of the country's energy. France has been able to do this through investment and research and development in nuclear effectiveness. Per capita, France spends more in research than any other country in the world for atomic energy.

I'm a big proponent for nuclear energy in Africa, if, and only if, there are safe guards and redundancies in place to stop African versions of Chernobyl's. The biggest problem with nuclear is the expense and where to keep the spent fuel. The cost of building a nuclear power plant runs about 1-2 billion dollars depending on electric capacity needed for the local grid. The French have solved how to reuse spent fuel rods, they reprocess the uranium so that about 95% of it can be used again for electric generation. France also has the best redundancies in place to virtually stop any meltdown.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is working with many African countries to get a best practise of generating electricity using atomic energy. I wrote a few weeks ago about Nigeria's plan of building a Nuclear power plant in 2013. Ghana, South Africa and Kenya are also looking to get into the nuclear mix.

If Africa is to develop, it will need a comprehensive plan for energy generation, whether its nuclear, fossil fuel or other green technologies...Africa needs energy to power homes and sustain and grow it's manufacturing base. As promising as nuclear power is, there are many dangers that a society can face when somethings goes terribly wrong like Chernobyl.

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