Russia beats China to Uganda’s nuclear deal

Cooling towers at Hendrina power station in Middelburg, South Africa. Uganda is set to develop its uranium deposits into nuclear power. NET PHOTO

KAMPALA- Russia has beaten China to the contract that will see Uganda develop its uranium deposits into nuclear power for “peaceful purposes”, mainly electricity generation and medicine (cancer treatment).

On Tuesday, Energy minister Irene Muloni signed an inter-government agreement (IGA) with Mr Nikolai Spasskiy, the deputy director general of Russia’s nuclear energy agency, Rosatom, in the Austrian capital Vienna, on the sidelines of the 63rd Session of the International Atomic Energy Agency General Conference.

The government and Rosatom signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the same earlier in 2017 to kick-start the relationship.
“The IGA establishes a strong cooperative framework with a focus on development of nuclear infrastructure in Uganda; production and application of radioisotopes for industrial, healthcare, agricultural use; support towards strengthening nuclear and radiation safety and security, as well as education and training,” read in part a statement issued by the ministry.

Discussions with Rosatom, a state-owned corporation which runs nuclear power generation, nuclear fuel, nuclear weapons and nuclear safety activities in Russia and globally, commenced last October shortly after the launch of the Uganda-Russian Joint Permanent Commission, an inter-governmental framework for economic, scientific and technical cooperation. This was after the firm’s regional vice-president of sub-Saharan Africa, Mr Viktor Polikarpov met with President Museveni.

Mr Spasskiy, according to the statement, said Rosatom is ready to support Uganda’s plans to develop peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Government had commenced similar discussions with the Chinese. In March 2016, a subsidiary of the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) started courting the Uganda government for the deal and subsequently presented its plan.

Discussions with the Chinese were, however, slowed down, a senior official told this newspaper on conditions of anonymity, because they “seemed to be hurrying everything” including lobbying at the highest political level, and yet such plans required both sides to devote time.

Mr Museveni, in various speeches, has been strongly advocating for development of nuclear energy to generate more electricity by 2035 on grounds that the country’s power generation per capita is way below the threshold required for industrialisation desirable to reach the middle-income status.

Rosatom is also currently in discussions with Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt, Moroco, Nigeria and Tunisia for development of peaceful nuclear energy.

The second National Development Plan and Vision 2040, outline government’s plans to use uranium to generate electricity using nuclear power stations by 2050. Uganda currently has a generation capacity of about 850 megawatts, mainly from hydro power. Nuclear enrichment can generate at least 1,000 megawatts.

By 2040, the government wants to have achieved electricity generation of 41,738 megawatts.