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Buyende land now a ‘hot cake’ ahead of building Uganda’s nuclear power plant

Energy minister Nankabirwa

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development has warned residents of Buyende District to desist from hurried sale of their land to speculators who are targeting securing it before the sh34 trillion nuclear energy power plant project set for 2031 is built.

Government identified Buyende as one of the eight sites for the construction of a 2,000 MW Nuclear Power Project for the introduction of nuclear power in Uganda’s electricity generation mix after pre-feasibility studies in 2019.

Other potential sites for the construction of subsequent Nuclear Power Project for energy security and industrialization include Nakasongola and Lamwo Districts among others.

In December 2021, the International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA endorsed Uganda’s nuclear energy power plant development following a successful review of the country’s nuclear infrastructure.

According to Emmanuel Wamala, the Assistant Commissioner Nuclear Fuel and Radioactive Waste, the project will need an estimate of one square mile of land for the nuclear energy power plant and additional 34 square miles to be gazetted for emergency zone for safety of the population.

The Minister of Energy, Ruth Nankabirwa Ssentamu, said preparations are ongoing to evaluate the Buyende nuclear power site and warned the residents to avoid hurried sale of land to schemers targeting surface rights compensation from the Government.

Nankabirwa who was addressing journalists on Thursday from the Ministry ahead of the African Nuclear Business Platform to be hosted by Uganda from Tuesday 14th – Friday 17th March, 2023 at the Speke Resort Hotel Munyonyo, pointed out that Uganda is experiencing an ever increasing population, economic growth, and rising social needs that require sustainable development of energy resources to meet the country’s Vision 2040 and National Development Plans – NDP goals.

Both Vision 2040 and the NDP identify electricity and modern energy as critical drivers of the socio-economic transformation that will shift the country from a peasantry to an industrialized and predominantly urban society.

Studies conducted by the Ministry of Energy indicate that the country’s energy sector comprises electricity generation from hydro, biomass, geothermal, solar, and peat potential, if fully developed, cannot meet targets envisaged under Vision 2040.

Uganda is among seven other countries in the Sub-Saharan countries that have committed to integrating nuclear energy as part of their energy mixes between from 2030-2037. The other counties are Ghana, Kenya, Sudan, Rwanda, Zambia and Nigeria.

Background to the Kampala conference

Nuclear Energy experts are expected in Kampala next week as more countries in Africa plan to develop nuclear power plants. The Africa Nuclear Business Platform (AFNBP) hosted by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development will provide a platform for players in nuclear energy to discuss the financing and viability of nuclear power plants to bridge the energy gap.

According to the Energy Minister, Ruth Nankabirwa, Africa Nuclear Business Platform 2023 (AFNBP 2023) running from March 14-17, 2023 is expected to attract 300 players in Africa’s nuclear energy market. Nankabirwa says the conference presents what she described as an excellent opportunity for Uganda, particularly, and the African continent in general, to find suitable approaches to challenges in the nuclear industry.

About 30 countries in Africa are currently considering nuclear power as part of their energy mix.  Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Sudan have already engaged with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to assess their readiness to embark on a nuclear program. Algeria, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zambia are also moving ahead with plans to set up nuclear power reactors.

Uganda hopes to have the first 2000-megawatt nuclear power plant running by the end of 2031. The plant is likely to be located on the shores of Lake Victoria. Energy Ministry Permanent Secretary, Irene Batebe last year revealed that Uganda was pushing ahead for a nine-billion-dollar power plant. She said Uganda was also sourcing for financing and suitable technologies.

Vision 2040 and the National Development Plans identify electricity as modern energy that will shift the country from a peasantry to an industrialized and predominantly urban society. Electricity has been identified as a critical driver of the socio-economic transformation of a nation. Uganda’s nuclear ambition drive is being steered by the nuclear energy department at the Ministry of Energy in collaboration with the Atomic Energy Council headed by Dr. Akisophel Kisolo.

Sources at the Atomic Energy Council told URN that a number of Ugandans employed at the council have been sent abroad for training in nuclear power technology, regulation, and oversight as part of the preparation for atomic or nuclear energy. “Those people are going to make the leadership team in effectively regulating our nuclear power program in the country,” said a source who asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to journalists.

Uganda hosts Africa Nuclear Business Platform 2023 (AFNBP 2023) amidst growing debate on whether African countries can afford the cost of conventional nuclear reactors like the one Uganda is planning to put up. There are also suggestions that Africa should opt for small nuclear reactors (SMR) instead of conventional reactor technology mainly being supplied and designed by Russia and China.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has raised concern about whether it can deliver new nuclear reactors to countries where they are needed on time. About 63% of today’s nuclear-generating capacity comes from plants that are more than 30 years old. Many were built in the aftermath of the 1970s oil shocks. Executive Secretary African Commission on Nuclear Energy, Enobot Agboraw recently told a virtual briefing that the continent is open to any technology provided it is cost-effective.

He disagreed whether assertions that Small nuclear reactors are inferior and meant for Africa. “Everybody has talked about Small modular reactors. Among these reactors are those that have features that address non-proliferation concerns. That uses to be a worry when one spoke about African countries acquiring the traditional types of nuclear reactors,” said Enobot Agboraw.

“I think the time is now and right for Africa to enter the nuclear energy arena. In terms of having nuclear power as a routine source of energy in Africa,” he said. The International Energy Agency(IEA) called for a 40% reduction in construction costs to enable countries to take up nuclear as part of their energy mix. Nuclear is the second low-emission source of electricity after hydroelectricity.

IEA’s Director Of Energy Markets and Security, Keisuke Sadamori said a growing number of countries in the world have reevaluated the role of nuclear power plants. “We need new technologies and innovations including advanced nuclear,” he said.

The IEA experts estimated that the construction of new nuclear reactor plants and extending the lifetime of the existing one would cost consumers $20 billion per year up to 2050.

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