May 19, 2016 / 11:12 AM / 3 years ago

Russia's Rosatom seeks cooperation agreements for African nuclear expansion

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Russia’s state nuclear agency Rosatom plans to sign cooperation agreements with Kenya, Uganda and Zambia to lay the groundwork for an expanded presence in Sub-Saharan Africa beyond its planned bid to build nuclear power plants in South Africa.

The logo of Russian state nuclear monopoly Rosatom is pictured at the World Nuclear Exhibition 2014, the trade fair event for the global nuclear energy sector, in Le Bourget, near Paris October 14, 2014. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Rosatom has voiced confidence in its ability to see off competition from China, France and South Korea in a planned South African tender to build a 9,600 megawatts (MW) nuclear power fleet in the continent’s most industrialised country. It sees scope, however, for more deals across the region, from the building of plants to supplying reactor fuel.

The mooted framework cooperation agreements, adding to those already made with Nigeria and Ghana, would set out how the parties will cooperate on peaceful uses of nuclear science in the medical, agricultural and energy fields, among others.

“This is the first step towards closer ties with Africa and closer cooperation with a view, of course, to some day building nuclear power plants,” Victor Polikarpov, Rosatom’s regional vice-president for Sub-Saharan Africa, said on Thursday.

“We want South Africa to become our springboard for the rest of Africa. We want to create a nuclear cluster, a group of companies here that can operate with us in Africa.”

President Jacob Zuma’s government was checking the financial and commercial impact of its nuclear ambitions before it issues a tender.

South Africa’s 1,800 MW Koeberg station near Cape Town is the continent’s only commercial nuclear power plant at present, though Rosatom is building a nuclear plant in Egypt that is expected to be completed by 2022.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s nuclear energy corporation Necsa is being encouraged by government to revive nuclear enrichment and conversion facilities to reduce dependence on imported reactor fuels.

South Africa has some of the world’s largest uranium deposits and the proposed nuclear fleet is likely to use 465 metric tonnes of enriched uranium a year by 2030, officials say.

Rosatom’s Polikarpov, however, said it might not be viable for South Africa to restart enrichment facilities dismantled before white minority rule ended in 1994.

“Another solution is just to have fuel supplied from Russia. We can guarantee supply of fuel non-stop for the duration of operation of all power plants,” he said.

Nigeria, however, looks a more distant prospect as its economy contracts amid the global plunge in oil prices.

“Given the extremely bad economic situation in Nigeria today, it might take a bit longer. But the government and the new president are still determined to go nuclear,” Polikarpov said.

Editing by James Macharia and David Goodman

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