How Viable is Uganda’s Nuclear Power Plan?

“Companies that are planning new nuclear units are currently indicating that the total costs (including escalation and financing costs) will go up to $8,100 per kW which translates into $9 billion for each 1,100 MW plant. Currently, Uganda’s annual national budget is $11 billion.
31 Dec 2020 16:24

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Early this month, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development stated that Uganda  would have a functional commercial nuclear energy industry by 2030.

According to State Minister for Energy Simon D’Ujanga, there was an ongoing study for the first plant, and, although it was not clear how much will be produced, it would not be less than 1,000 megawatts.

“Nuclear energy plants are usually big generators and this will not be less than 1,000 megawatts,” he said at the Energy Sector Performance Review.  This came barely a year after  the ministry said that China would help Uganda build and operate nuclear power plants under a deal signed with the government in 2019.

Eight potential sites had been identified in different parts of the country to host the plants. In the same year, Uganda signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) with Russia to build capacity to exploit nuclear technology for energy, medical and other peaceful purposes.

President Museveni said that Uganda needed nuclear power plants, arguing that the ongoing hydropower projects would soon be overrun by high demand, hence the need for nuclear power plants.  

He added that the government had completed pre-feasibility studies for a 2000-Meggwatt project, while the energy minister said then, that there were plans to produce 30,000 megawatts by 2026. By 2040, the government hopes that nuclear will be producing at least 60 per cent of the electricity in Uganda.

Nuclear electricity is produced when atoms in uranium oil split in a process called fission, causing very high amounts of energy. This energy heats water and very high temperatures and the resulting steam them forces turbines to rotate, producing electricity. In some cases, the water is called and reused within the plant, making nuclear one of the cleanest sources of energy.

But the plan to generate electricity from nuclear energy has drawn mixed feeling, with some wondering whether it is necessary, considering the current level of demand due to the low industrialisation level of the country.

Currently, the country has an installed capacity of 1,252 megawatts with more than 90 per cent coming from hydro projects and the rest from renewable sources like solar, geothermal and bagasse.  Experts argue that even at the planned addition of 800 megawatts by Karuma and Isimba projects will just be a tiny fraction of Uganda’s electricity resources, before even thinking of solar and wind.

A renewable energy expert, Engineer Dennis Ariho thinks that it is better for the country to first, exploit the available power resources as the country builds the capacity to manage safety issues.

//Cue in; "We need to first… 

Cue out… the hydropower.”//

While this type of energy is considered one of the cleanest sources, it is dreaded for its potentially destructive nature in case of an error or accident, as uranium has high levels of radiation.

Radiation has been named for causing cancers and leading to deformation of unborn children, among others, on top of affecting animal and plant species. The biggest accident in recent history is the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011 when an earthquake in Fukushima, Japan damaged the nuclear plant, as well as the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 in Ukraine which resulted from operational mistakes during a safety testing exercise.

Years later, effects of these are still being traced in the surrounding areas, while hundreds of thousands of people had to be evacuated to as far as 30 kilometres away. These disasters enhanced calls for the dismantling of reactors and countries like Germany, Japan and the USA have been pulling down the plants, most of which were commissioned for peaceful energy uses in the 1970s and 80s.

Germany hopes that by 2022 it will have completed phasing out its 17 remaining plants, and by 2030, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland will have done the same. The cost of dismantling a plant is just about the cost of decommissioning one, according to Synapse Energy Economics, a nuclear research group.

“Companies that are planning new nuclear units are currently indicating that the total costs (including escalation and financing costs) will go up to $8,100 per kW which translates into $9 billion for each 1,100 MW plant.

Currently, Uganda’s annual national budget is USD 11 billion. Eng Ariho also says that currently there is too much generation capacity and the coming of a nuclear industry will mean much more capacity than demand, which will be costly for the country to maintain.

//Cue in;  if the demand…


Cue out: … is higher.”//  

Should one decide to decommission a plant, it will cost about USD 2 dollars while the permanent safe depository of waste material from the reactor would need not less than USD 4 billion.

As Africa, including Uganda, Egypt, Kenya and Rwanda plan on building their industries, the costs of building, the expected duration and the expected cost of dismantling when the need arises, will have to be considered in the feasibility studies.