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Is nuclear energy Kenya’s game changer?

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Recently, Kenya has had its sights set on adopting a nuclear power plant to increase energy security and industrial growth in the East African region. To help Kenya actualize this dream, a team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conducted a nine-day visit in Kenya (from 11 to 19 December 2023)  to assess the country’s preparedness to undertake such an endeavour.

The IAEA visit underscores the government’s commitment to achieving complete operational transparency in implementing the nuclear power plant.  Moreover, the government has also provided support for the nuclear power programme in various ways, including providing funds to carry out feasibility studies, ratifying necessary international legal instruments and conventions, and spearheading the enactment of national legislation as well as a regulatory framework for the industry to build confidence and gain support from the Kenyan public, as well as from the international community.

“Kenya is on transition to clean energy that will support jobs, local economies, and sustainable industrialization. We call on all African states to join us in the journey. Africa can lead the world. We have immense potential for renewable energy. Reducing costs of renewable energy technologies make this the most viable energy source,” said President Ruto during his inauguration.

Kenya already has a population of over 47 million people, according to the latest data from the 2019 census, as provided by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Such numbers translate to high energy demand. Data from Kenya’s Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority shows that electricity supply in the country stood at over 3000 MW in 2021. Yet, in recent days, Kenya has experienced frequent nationwide electric power outages, plunging the country into total darkness, affecting different sectors of the economy, and leading to losses of billions of shillings.

Speaking on 26 December 2023, Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi said that the government is seeking more reliable energy sources to deal with the frequent experiences of nationwide power blackouts.

“These days we are seeing that blackouts are disturbing; the electricity is repetitively going off, we must as a country start looking for alternative means for bringing electricity. There is wind; there is solar; and now there is nuclear.”

Currently, Africa has only two operational power reactors based in South Africa, and another set of four are under construction in Egypt. Meanwhile, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda have signed deals to build nuclear power plants. Kenya, being the first East African country set to own this project, is likely seen as a game changer to the energy demand bedevilling the country and the East African region at large.

But how will this project bring about economic transformation in the region?

Economic analyst Brian Nabiswa spoke to Pan African Review on how nuclear projects will foster development in the region and beyond by providing reliable energy security. It is expected that an increase in power generation capacity will trigger industrial growth, thereby creating more job opportunities for locals and foreigners.

“In terms of regional cooperation, the project will boost the economic ties between East African countries through the support of industrial growth, and bring about economic stability, labor force by creating an avenue for job creation and skills development, which will impact positively on the employment growth,” Mr Nabiswa said.

Nabiswa added that when the project is reliable, it will promote regional cooperation in the energy sector through cross-border integration.

“Infrastructural development which is more viable to boost and upgrading of infrastructure development of the region not only Killifi, Kwale or Tana river which are bilobed areas but the entire region through transport and communication and crucial facilities.”

This project provides an opportunity for technological growth, especially when building and maintaining the plant, which would enhance the boost between the workforce and the energy sector.

“Research and development enhances growth in nuclear technology, innovation and invention because wherever there is extensive robust research, it enhances safety management on how to control waste around research and development. If this project does well, we will export energy to other states as well as expertise and technology services,” Nabiswa added.

Similarly, activities related to hospitality and housing will also get a boost. According to him, the employment of engineers and skilled workers will result in an increase in the requirement for housing, hotels and hospitalities-related commodities within the region.

Economic activities around construction and engineering will also develop and grow because the starting phase will need an extensive labour force in construction, civil, and electrical engineering, project management, among others.

“The mining of uranium along the coastal region will boost the supply chain for fuel and raw materials to run the machinery, giving a chance for a range of businesses, such as mining, processing, and transportation of materials within the country and neighbouring countries.

Nabiswa also added that the 1000 MW project is estimated to contribute up to 10% of the Kenyan economy’s gross domestic product.

But perhaps one of the biggest concerns is the financial aspect. The cost of constructing, maintaining and commissioning a plant is the most expensive form of electricity generation. The construction cost of a nuclear plant is approximately about US$ 5 billion per 1000 MW, which is equivalent to KSH 803 billion shillings. This would require massive loans, which would come with considerable interest. Such an investment may seem prohibitive given Kenya’s current struggles to service its debt.

Moreover, the construction period is long due to the different phases of developing a nuclear plant. The completion of each phase is marked by a specific milestone at which progress can be assessed and decisions made about readiness to move to the next phase.

All in all, the nuclear plant aspiration can be the solution to the energy crises locally and in the neighbouring states, even though implementing and maintaining the project will certainly come with a high financial burden on the Kenyan economy.

 

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