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Russians eyeing Africa’s atomic energy niche

In a market whose key lucrative sectors like minerals, construction, oil and gas, are already saturated by Chinese, European and to extent American investors, the Russians in their search for entry points to the African market seem to have identified the region’s budding nuclear energy sector, a hitherto untapped yet potentially lucrative segment.

Rosatom, Russia’s state run atomic energy giant is currently on an extensive charm offensive in the region to sell to African governments its huge capacity ranging from developing atomic energy power plants, to training of scientists and experts in nuclear energy. 

The Government of Uganda has done feasibility studies and is looking to constructing a nuclear power plant capable of producing 4,300MW of electricity by 2040. Beyond the immense electricity output, Uganda is also looking at exploiting the Russians’ expertise for educational, agricultural, medicinal (particularly cancer treatment) technologies.

Recently, Viktor Polikarpov, Rosatom’s Regional Vice-President for Sub-Saharan Africa, who is effectively Russia’s atomic energy roving ambassador on the continent, met President Yoweri Museveni and senior Government officials to discuss works towards a nuclear energy plant in Uganda. Uganda has already commissioned Swiss consulting firm, AF Consult Switzerland to undertake assessment for the country. AF Consult Switzerland has indicated that Uganda needs an investment in excess of US$ 23 billion to generate 4,300MW of nuclear electcity.

In October 2016 Tanzania media reported that the Russians through Rosatom were in advanced stages of discussion with the Government of Tanzania to build a nuclear power reactor in Southern Tanzania, following the discovery of Uranium in the South of East Africa’s largest country. The Government of Kenya also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Rosatom working towards building its own nuclear power plant.

Over the last few months, the Russians through Rosatom have rolled out a charm offensive to sell their giant capacity, experience and technology to African leaders and policy makers. They have also reached out to the International Atomic Energy to sell the idea of deploying their resources to support development of non-military nuclear energy in developing countries.

Rosatom has signed a memorandum of Understanding with the International Atomic Energy Agency to provide support and capacity building for developing countries to build peaceful nuclear energy projects, effectively getting the clearance from the world nuclear regulator for their African entry and subsequent activities.

At the Nuclear Africa 2017 conference that took place March 29-30 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Rosatom laid out their hard and soft ware in the industry to African technocrats, policy makers and scientists to show what they are capable of. The company presented its recent achievements in the construction of innovative nuclear power plants (NPPs) and research reactors, establishment of advanced research centers as well as its corporate social responsibility initiatives in South Africa.

Viktor Polikarpov told the conference that “Rosatom is committed to supporting its foreign partners in achieving their ambitions to further develop the nuclear industry for peaceful purposes. Africa is experiencing significant and accelerating infrastructure development, industrialisation, economic growth, urbanization and increasing investment in education and science.”

In mid-March, Rosatom participated in the inaugural Kenya Nuclear Energy Week, regional conference and exhibition. The conference which took place in Nairobi was also attended by officials from the Nigerian and Ghanaian governments as well as the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and WNA (World Nuclear Association), members of Kenyan National Assembly, Ministries, Kenya Nuclear Energy Board.

At the meeting, Viktor Polikarpov, Rosatom  told deleagtes that, “one of the most important aspects of the Russian ready-to-implement solutions is their relevancy to African problems. Water scarcity is becoming one of the most pressing crises affecting Africa. Recent droughts have really highlighted the extent of the looming water crises. A reliable supply of water and energy is an important prerequisite for sustainable economic development and our VVER Gen-3+ nuclear reactor unit coupled with a desalination facility is able to provide for both needs.”

Speaking recently in Johannesburg at the African Youth Summit Professor Dmitrii Samokhin Head of Reactor Development and Design Department at the Russian National Research Nuclear University (MEPhI), announced that in 2017, Russia was offering 60 scholarships for young Africans to study nuclear sciences in Russian universities, as part of its capacity building drive for nuclear development in Africa.

“The scholarships will support African students to gain comprehensive knowledge and qualifications in the design, construction and operation of nuclear facilities for development of national nuclear programmes in line with IAEA standards,” he said.

Samokhin said Russian technical universities have hosted nearly 1400 foreign students through the bursary programme since its inception in 2010. The scholarships cover the student’s full education fee for a Bachelors or Master’s Degree.

Rosatom is one of the biggest nuclear energy specialized companies in the world.

The Russians already have understanding or ongoing projects with a number of African countries; such as training and capacity building in Egyptian universities and construction of a centre for Nuclear Science and Technology in Zambia, among others.

Globally, Rosatom has nuclear plants and projects in countries Eastern Europe, Asia, Central Europe, Latin America and Africa.



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