Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Is there a place for nuclear power in Nigeria?

Nigeria and Russia have signed agreements to set up four nuclear power plants and a Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology in Nigeria. This piece examines the prospects of nuclear power plants to be built in Nigeria by mid-2020, with the view of objectively assessing its cost implications and feasibility.

Given Africa’s low levels of energy access, supply deficiencies and little contribution to climate change, it can be agreed that energy sources (clean or dirty) is not a question of substitutes but complements. Abundant energy that can be deployed affordably are essential for addressing energy challenges in the region. Two clean energy sources – nuclear and solar – have emerged as a revolutionary source for scaling up energy supply globally. Solar power, on one hand, has become the cheapest and fastest-growing source of electricity since 2011, on account of the surge in Chinese-manufactured silicon solar PV which cut costs by one-third. Nuclear power, on the other hand, supplies at least five times more electricity than solar power.

In Africa, the only operating nuclear plant is in South Africa, and it produces 1,860MWof power, contributing to 4% of South Africa’s power capacity. Plans to expand South Africa’s nuclear capacity is however opposed by the country’s Minister of Energy and the Treasury, on the ground of its implications for national debt. However, more African countries like Egypt, Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Zambia are establishing agreements with Russia State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom) to build nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes.

The Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC) has also signed agreements with Rosatom, in 2017 and 2016, to set up four nuclear power plants and a Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology respectively, after a decade of developing the framework. The nuclear project, which is expected to cost about US$ 20 billion and produce 4,800 megawatts of electricity by 2035, will be initially operated by Rosatom before handover.

The cost implications of nuclear project should be an issue of concern for Nigeria, given cost-recovery challenges presently faced by power generation companies (Gencos) mostly due to low electricity tariffs that has proven politically and structurally difficult to raise. In addition, the country’s fiscal balances remains very susceptible to oil price and production shocks so affordability might be a major concern.

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