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Kenya Eyes 2027 Kickoff for Sh785bn Nuclear Power Plant

The long-delayed facility is expected to generate 4,000 MW by 2035.

Kenya plans to begin constructing its first nuclear power plant in 2027 as it diversifies its energy generation amid rising demand and a zero-carbon push.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Authority Director for Partnerships and Public Awareness Edward Mayaka, the country is ready to fully adopt nuclear applications as it prepares to implement its first nuclear power plant by 2035.

At the COP28, Mr Mayaka highlighted the potential of nuclear energy to greatly address climate change, as nuclear power plants, unlike fossil fuels, generate electricity through a process that produces virtually no direct carbon emissions.

“This characteristic alone makes nuclear energy an attractive option for countries striving to reduce their carbon footprint,” he said.

In March 2022, the government identified Kwale and Kilifi as the most preferred sites for the nuclear station due to their less likelihood of suffering earthquakes.

The plant is expected to cost $5 billion (Sh785 billion) nuclear plant.

“The first nuclear power plant of 1,000 MW is expected to be commissioned by the year 2027 and is expected to grow to 4,000 MW by 2035,” officials said in their 2020 submissions to the National Environment Management Authority.

The nuclear agency said it was shopping for the most ideal reactor for Kenya.

The modern nuclear reactors available in the market are large-sized devices in the range of 1,000 MW –1,750 MW with “proven design technology and performance records”.

This comes amid a renewed global interest in nuclear power, as several countries that were once opposed to initiating nuclear programs or planning phase-outs are now reversing course due to growing concerns about climate change.

Recent studies have found that the impacts of the nuclear shut-downs on power generation have significantly set back emissions reduction goals in these countries.

A study on the German and Japanese phase-outs suggests that maintaining operation of their nuclear plants could have averted 28,000 air pollution-induced deaths and 2,400 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions between 2011 and 2017.

Early last year, Kenya’s nuclear project has received a major boost following the signing of a nuclear cooperation deal between Kenya and the United States.

According to the White House, the US-Kenya framework cooperation agreement would set out how the two countries will cooperate on peaceful uses of nuclear sciences such as those in energy, medical, agricultural fields, among others.

Is Kenya ready for nuclear power?

NuPEA expects four reactors of 4,000MW to be on site by 2035, which sets the total cost of the project at about Sh2 trillion – a signal that Kenya might be unable to finance its nuclear power program.

A 2009 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists revealed that between 2002 and 2008 the cost estimates for new nuclear plant construction rose from at least Sh200 billion per unit to a maximum of 900 billion per unit, with overheads soaring higher in Europe.

It is against this background that energy experts from Italy and Germany, which are increasingly shifting towards green electricity, urged Kenya to reconsider its plan saying the country was better off developing more geothermal wells, solar parks and wind farms.

Long construction periods (about 10 years), and costly decommissioning of plants at the end of their lifespan, have dissuaded many countries from investing in nuclear energy.

Electricity demand

But in an unexpected shift, several countries are now betting on nuclear energy to meet their rising electricity demands – with a third of the nearly 30 nations considering nuclear power being in Africa, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, Kenya, Sudan, Niger, and Nigeria have engaged with the IAEA to evaluate their readiness to adopt a nuclear program, with Zambia, Uganda, and Tunisia considering the option.

2,500MW nuclear plant

South Africa, the only African country that operates a commercial nuclear power plant, is also harbouring some high voltage ambitions with the planned construction of a 2,500MW nuclear plant to enhance its power generation capacity.

Algeria is also planning to build a nuclear energy power plant to take advantage of the massive uranium assets in the country, believed to be about 26,000 tonnes.

Africa’s interest in nuclear energy comes despite evidence that renewable energy options such as solar and wind provide a cheaper and greener way to raise electricity production.

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