Africa thinks twice about nuclear power

One of our 2010 "Stories You Missed" was the increasing number of African countries looking to go nuclear as the continent’s energy needs grow. The most recent, as of the time of writing, was Senegal, which hoped to have its first plant up and running by decade’s end. That dream appears to have died this ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

One of our 2010 "Stories You Missed" was the increasing number of African countries looking to go nuclear as the continent's energy needs grow. The most recent, as of the time of writing, was Senegal, which hoped to have its first plant up and running by decade's end. That dream appears to have died this week:

Senegal canceled plans to build what would have been the first African nuclear power plant outside of South Africa, President Abdoulaye Wade told a cabinet meeting yesterday. The West African nation had ordered nuclear equipment from a Russian company, Wade said in an e-mailed statement, without identifying the company.

In the aftermath of a March 11 earthquake in Japan, which has placed the Pacific nation’s nuclear reactors at risk, Wade canceled that order, according to the statement.

One of our 2010 "Stories You Missed" was the increasing number of African countries looking to go nuclear as the continent’s energy needs grow. The most recent, as of the time of writing, was Senegal, which hoped to have its first plant up and running by decade’s end. That dream appears to have died this week:

Senegal canceled plans to build what would have been the first African nuclear power plant outside of South Africa, President Abdoulaye Wade told a cabinet meeting yesterday. The West African nation had ordered nuclear equipment from a Russian company, Wade said in an e-mailed statement, without identifying the company.

In the aftermath of a March 11 earthquake in Japan, which has placed the Pacific nation’s nuclear reactors at risk, Wade canceled that order, according to the statement.

They’re not the only one. Nigeria is reviewing its nuclear ambitions. Egypt has asked the IAEA for an assessment of its plans.  A debate is raging over plans to build six more reactors in South Africa, the only country on the continent that already uses nuclear power. IAEA chief Yukio Amano is in Nairobi for meetings with Kenyan leaders while a debate over nuclear safety continues in the country’s parliament. Ghana is apparently still moving ahead with plans to have a plant up and running by 2018. 

In many ways, nuclear makes sense for Africa, a rapidly urbanizing continent that already has 18 percent of the world’s recoverable uranium. But given that one of the world’s richest and most technologically advanced country’s has been forced, more than three weeks after the initial disaster, to resort to dumping radioactive water into the ocean,  it’s pretty terrifying to imagine how an equivalent catastrophe would play out in countries that are not exactly known for their disaster preparedness. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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