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Africa continues nuclear power drive regardless of Fukushima

On the world map of the International Nuclear Safety Center, Africa is a huge swathe of no-man's land. There is just a single nuclear power plant on the entire continent. But that could soon change.

Power station in Africa

Africa only has one nuclear power station, so far

There is just one red dot on the International Nuclear Safety Center's map of Africa, marking the continent's only nuclear power station - Koeberg, on the west coast of South Africa. But several African countries want to change that, and fairly soon.

Nigeria, for instance, intends to switch to nuclear energy in the next 10 to 15 years, and they have not been discouraged by the recent catastrophe in Japan. "That is of no consequence for us," Sani Sambo, head of the Nigerian energy commission, told Deutsche Welle. "We're still a country hoping for a nuclear future."

Nuclear safety issues are hardly discussed in Nigeria, where only around 40 percent of the population have access to electricity. Sambo describes such concerns as European luxuries: "They have so many possibilities!" he said. "Germany can even produce more than its own energy demands. Even if they shut down all their nuclear plants, they still have enough. But we need power."

International support

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi

Sarkozy made a nuclear power deal with Libya a few years ago

It's a similar story in other countries, including Senegal, Namibia, Uganda and Kenya - all are dreaming of a nuclear future, and all are being supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The organization, which reports to the United Nations, has been attempting to introduce nuclear power to Africa for several years.

Whether the Fukushima catastrophe in Japan has changed this policy is unclear. The IAEA did not speak to Deutsche Welle, despite several requests, but Ali Boussaha, director of the IAEA's technical cooperation program in Africa, appears in a video posted on the agency's website extolling the virtues of atomic energy. "It opens new prospects for sustainability in terms of social and economic development, and this is what Africa needs," he said.

Opportunities for European business

Some European states are also courting African governments, hoping to sell nuclear technology. Four years ago, French President Nicolas Sarkozy signed a declaration of cooperation on atomic energy with, of all people, Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi. Its main aim: to build a nuclear power station in the country currently being torn apart by civil war.

Rianne Teule, a nuclear expert for Greenpeace Africa, thinks this is a transparent business strategy. "Of course, these countries have their own interest in selling technology in Africa," she told Deutsche Welle. Teule says that France's nuclear power industry relies on exports.

Lessons from the catastrophe

IAEA flag

The IAEA has encouraged the development of nuclear power in Africa

Teule also says that Africa is a particularly bad place to start building nuclear power stations. She says African governments have too little experience in dealing with nuclear technology, and too little infrastructure.

The environmentalist is nevertheless convinced that events in Japan will at least give decision-makers in Africa pause for thought. "Even a very well-organized country with high safety standards, like Japan, could not prevent a disaster," she said. "I think it would be the worst nightmare for an African country if something like this happened on their soil."

But many experts don't see it that way. The Ethiopian nuclear researcher Gedion Getahun thinks that Fukushima could even accelerate the development of nuclear power in Africa. His thesis is that if more European countries shut down their nuclear power stations, the nuclear industry will start looking for new markets. The nuclear no-man's land of Africa is an area ready to be exploited.

Author: Jan-Philipp Scholz / bk
Editor: Rob Mudge

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