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More countries to start producing electricity from nuclear power, says IAEA

About a dozen new countries are expected to start producing electricity from nuclear power sources within the next few years, according to the director general of the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi.

“We already have 10 countries which have entered the decision phase [to build nuclear power plants] and 17 others which are in the evaluation process,” Grossi said on November 27 at the World Nuclear Exhibition in Paris.

“There will be a dozen or 13 [new] nuclear countries within a few years,” he added.

Grossi mentioned Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Namibia, the Philippines, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as potential new nuclear countries, Reuters has reported.

According to IAEA calculations, it is necessary to double the number of nuclear reactors in the world, which currently stands at about 400 units, to achieve the objectives of the Paris climate agreement, Grossi was quoted as saying.

In Africa, Ghana has been operating a 30-kW research reactor since 1994. The West African country has plans to introduce nuclear power for electricity by 2030 to diversify its energy mix with cheaper and more sustainable generation, according to the country’s nuclear regulator. In 2022, the government approved the plan to build a 1 GWe nuclear power plant (NPP) with vendors invited from the US, Russia, Canada and South Korea and the contract expected to be signed in 2024-2026, Bloomberg reports.

Kenya targets to kick off the construction of its first nuclear power plant in 2027 as the country seeks to further diversify its energy generation amid rising demand and push for zero-carbon energy, according to acting CEO of the Nuclear Power and Energy Agency (NuPEA) Justus Wabuyabo. His statement follows the 2021 approval by the IAEA for Kenya to go ahead with setting up the infrastructure for the plants.

“We will do the bidding stage, as anytime between 2026 and 2027 and start construction in 2027. Construction ranges six to ten years so we are looking at 2034-35 to commission the first plant,” Wabuyabo said, as recently reported by The East African.

Morocco has a 2-MW research reactor that was commissioned in 2007, according to IAEA. Morocco has signed cooperation agreements on nuclear technology and development with various countries, such as France, Russia, China, and the USA. The North African country is evaluating the feasibility and benefits of nuclear power for its long-term energy security and sustainability. Morocco has participated actively in the IAEA technical cooperation programme for the peaceful use of nuclear technology. 

Nigeria has been operating a small research nuclear reactor since 2004. According to the Director General of the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NNRA), Yau Idris, agreements have been signed with several other countries’ regulators as plans proceed for a proposed four-unit 4,000-MW NPP. The NNRA also has agreements on cooperation and training with regulators in the USA, Pakistan, South Korea and Russia.

The country aims to use nuclear power to diversify its energy mix, which currently relies heavily on oil and gas, and to meet its growing electricity demand, which is expected to reach 88,282 MWh by 2030.

Namibia has no nuclear power reactors in operation but has a large uranium mining industry. The Southern African country is the third-largest uranium producer in the world. In 2021, it produced 5,613 tonnes of uranium, which accounted for 11.37% of the world’s production. Namibia has signed agreements with China and Russia to cooperate on nuclear technology and development. The country currently depends on electricity imports from neighbouring countries and is considering nuclear power as a long-term option for its future energy mix.

In Central Asia, Kazakhstan is the world’s leading uranium producer. It is home to 12% of the world’s uranium resources. Kazakhstan currently operates research reactors as well as several other nuclear installations related to the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining, World Nuclear News (WNN) reports. Four foreign potential suppliers of nuclear technology from France, China, South Korea and Russia are being considered by Kazakhstan for the construction of the country’s first NPP, the Ministry of Energy said in January 2023.

Uzbekistan is continuing with studies of the nuclear experience and technologies of various countries as it assesses how to take its first step into nuclear power, according to the country’s energy minister Jurabek Mirzamahmudov.

Mirzamahmudov said that the government was currently carrying out an analysis of whether to opt for a single large NPP or small modular reactors (SMRs), bne Intellinews reported.

“Not only Russian, but the experiences of other countries, and technologies are being studied. That's why we haven't stopped working on this. Since this is a very large strategic project, we can submit a report to our president without haste, having weighed and measured everything not seven times, but seventy-seven times, having calculated and analysed everything," Mirzamahmudov was quoted as saying.

He added: “We are carrying out procedures based on the requirements of the IAEA. That is, there are licensing processes in this sphere, the development of regulatory documents.”

According to the head of Rosatom, Alexey Likhachev, Russia and Uzbekistan have moved into the final stage in terms of preparing a contract that would commission Russia to build an NPP for Tashkent. All the main project solutions were reached back in 2019, he said, but the pandemic then stopped many processes from moving forward.

In Southeast Asia, Manila Electric Company (Meralco), the Philippines’ largest electric distribution utility, has entered into a collaboration with Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) from the US to explore the potential deployment of micro-modular reactor (MMR) energy systems in the country, bne Intellinews reported.

The agreement was formalised during the 30th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Summit in San Francisco in November 2023, with Meralco chairman and CEO Manuel Pangilinan and USNC founder and CEO Francesco Venneri signing the document, witnessed by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.

Building on a partnership announced in August, the agreement outlines a four-month pre-feasibility study to be conducted by USNC. This study aims to acquaint Meralco with MMR systems and evaluate their effective utilisation in the Philippines. Depending on the outcomes, Meralco retains the option to proceed with a more detailed feasibility study focusing on the adoption and deployment of MMR energy systems.

“USNC is changing the nuclear safety and national energy security conversations in the Philippines with the MMR,” Pangilinan is reported as saying, adding “this also signifies the commitment of the Philippines, through Meralco, to explore and utilise diverse energy sources for the benefit of Filipinos.”

“[W]e believe that nuclear technology will help balance the need to meet the growing demand of our country with the equally crucial need to transition towards a sustainable energy future,” he said.