Rwanda is the latest African country to sign a nuclear deal with Russian state atomic company Rosatom. But the deals between Russia and several African countries are raising concerns from environmentalists who say nuclear energy is not always clean and does not come free.
A Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, Russia, last week brought together the heads of state and government representatives from 55 countries. Speaking at the forum, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his government was offering African countries an opportunity to use nuclear technology.
"Rosatom is prepared to help our African partners in creating a nuclear industry,” with “the construction of research centers based on multifunctional reactors," he said.
Rosatom is building a $29 billion nuclear plant for Egypt. The same company is helping Uganda, the Republic of Congo and Rwanda establish nuclear facilities. Right now, South Africa is the only country on the continent with a nuclear power plant.
In Rwanda, Rosatom will construct the Center of Nuclear Science and Technologies. In Nigeria, a planned Rosatom nuclear reactor may provide the West African nation with electricity.
Environmental activists are wary of these deals. Jakpor Philip of Nigeria's Environment Rights Action said, “We continue to hear, for instance, that nuclear energy is clean, but in truth, it is not clean because you need a lot of water to keep the nuclear plant cool. You need an independent power to keep powering 24/7. If you need that much power to keep that plant running, then it shows it's not clean."
Most African countries have needs that could be met by nuclear energy. According to the International Energy Agency, 57 per cent of Africa's population does not have easy access to electricity, and those who have it must deal with frequent power outages.
Michael Gatari, the head of nuclear science and technology at the University of Nairobi, said African countries can pursue nuclear technology but must get their own people to manage the nuclear reactors.
"We should have in-country, competent, well-trained manpower not depending on expatriates’ support, because that would be very expensive in long run,” he said. “Manpower development for nuclear energy is very critical."
Gatari also said Russia was seeking business in Africa, not giving away gifts.
"Africa is not going to get a free reactor,” he said. “They are selling their technology. So the issue of helping does not come in. Of course, there is a component of 'we will train your people, we'll do this,' but still if you calculate the cost, it's we who cough. So the African countries should move into it with a business vision."
And in Sochi where Putin rolled out the red carpet for African leaders, he reminded them Russia was open for business.