France joins suitors for Kenya’s nuclear plant venture

By NEVILLE OTUKI

France has joined the list of countries courting Kenya for a multi-billion-dollar deal to build East Africa’s first nuclear power plant.

French Economy and Finance minister Michel Sapin said the nuclear-rich European country was looking to offer Kenya technical, engineering and financial support to develop reactors.

Kenya plans to start building its first nuclear plant from 2022 in a five-year period at a cost of about Sh500 billion.

China, Russia, South Korea and Slovakia have since inked various pacts with Kenya in manpower development and skills exchange as they eye a possible deal.

“We have expressed our readiness to support the construction of the plants. Our support involves everything from expertise to funding,” Mr Sapin said on Sunday after concluding his two-day visit to Kenya during which he presided over the return of Peugeot assembly to Kenya.

Kenya’s first reactor will have a capacity of 1,000 megawatts (MW), which is equivalent to 42 per cent of the country’s current installed electricity capacity. The development of nuclear energy is in line with national Strategy 2030, according to which nuclear energy can amount to 19% of energy generation, making nuclear energy the second important source after geothermal. Nuclear program development has a sound point — clear and sustainable source of energy that can guarantee energy generation for decades.

The move is part of Kenya’s drive to industrialize by 2030 and will provide power for both consumers and investors, but critics said the nation should instead focus on its 10 000 MW of untapped geothermal energy in the Rift Valley basin.

However, according to the Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board (KNEB) chief executive Collins Juma said that countries maximum geothermal energy potential is limited by 10 000 MW, which cannot guarantee sustainable energy supply. At the same time he pointed out that renewables like wind and solar cannot serve as a base load as they are too dependent on weather.

The nuclear board reckons that despite the heavy upfront costs, nuclear energy is effective in meeting the country’s minimum power demand, technically known as base load.

Kenya has identified possible sites for nukes such as towns bordering Lake Turkana, the Indian Ocean and Lake Victoria whose waters will cool the reactors. In 2016 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has endorsed Kenya’s application to include nuclear power in its energy mix. IAEA-led team of international experts who reviewed Kenya’s progress in developing the national infrastructure for a nuclear power programme noted that Kenya has an existing legal and regulatory framework covering radiation sources in agriculture, medicine, industry and research.

France is a world leader in nuclear energy and boasts third generation reactors known as European pressurised reactors (EPR), whose technology is owned by French giant Areva and has been adopted by China and Finland. The EPR reactors generate more electricity with less nuclear fuel and are better cushioned against accidents.

Mr Sapin said that France was seeking pacts with Nairobi like the ones it entered with South Africa on nuclear power development.

France has over the years signed several pacts with South Africa whose two power plants were built by French firm Areva.

South Africa plans to add more nuclear power plants.

Energy experts from Italy and Germany last October, however, advised Kenya to drop plans to build nuclear reactors and instead harness its vast renewable energy resources for power generation.

The experts, attending a renewable energy conference in Nairobi, reckoned that Kenya is better off developing more geothermal wells, solar parks and wind farms.

They cited massive costs for a nuke plant, long construction periods of about 10 years and expensive decommissioning of plants at the end of their lifespan, especially disposing of hazardous radioactive waste.

Italy shut down its last nuke plant in 1990 and the people voted against the atomic technology in a 2011 referendum. Germany plans to pull nuclear plants off its power grid by 2022 in favour of green energy.

Originally published at www.nation.co.ke.

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