The Ministry of Energy is pursuing an ambitious plan aimed at integrating nuclear plants to the country’s energy mix.
Under the plan, two units of base case scenario with installed capacity of 2000 Megawatts will be commissioned by 2031, a date agreed upon for the commissioning of the first unit of nuclear power under the Nuclear Power Roadmap Development Strategy adopted by cabinet on April 22, 2015.
The strategy identifies key infrastructure issues for nuclear power development and proposes mechanisms to address them. Uganda’s vision 2040 had envisioned to have 30,000 Megawatts of nuclear power by 2026.
The development follows a contract signed between government and AF-Consult Switzerland in 2014 to study the integration of nuclear power plants into generation capacity plan 2015-2040. The consultant said Uganda would need to invest USD 26 billion to have an installed capacity of 4,300 Megawatts of power from nuclear energy by 2040.
AF-Consult Switzerland estimates that Uganda would spend 744.8 trillion Shillings in capital and operating costs if it is to generate 30,000 Megawatts from nuclear as outlined in the Uganda Vision 2040.
Despite this aggressive plan, some fear that the multi-billion dollar power plant construction is likely to be very costly for the country while other are questioning whether Uganda will have gained capacity to avoid radioactive leakages and its harmful effects on health.
An engineer who previously worked with the Ministry of Energy but asked for anonymity told Uganda Radio Network that the cost could be much higher going by trends in Nuclear power generation costs.
Harold Acemah, a retired career diplomat recently said nuclear power was likely to be a very expensive venture which will cost Uganda trillions of Shillings to build and maintain. Acemah also raised questions around safety of nuclear technology against the background of disastrous accidents which occurred in Chernobyl, Ukraine, and more recently in Japan.
The consultant advised Uganda to utilize international suppliers of nuclear fuel and their nuclear fuel cycle services as the most cost effective approach for the first nuclear power project.
The government is however determined to proceed with its nuclear energy plans guided by AF-Consult Switzerland. Uganda expects to sign a memorandum of understanding with Russia in June on the development of nuclear power.
A survey of potential sites for nuclear power development was conducted by the Siting Working Group (SWG) comprising of experts from different Ministries and Departments. The results of the survey recommended areas around the Kyoga, Katonga and Aswa regions as the most suitable potential sites for nuclear stations and substations.
James Banabe Isingoma, the Energy Ministry’s Director for Energy Resources Management said areas Buyende district’s Kyankole hill in Kidera, Naluntuntu in Mubende and areas in Aswa were very suitable.
The Ministry has since concluded that the 2031 base case scenario of commissioning the first Nuclear Power Plant is a more feasible milestone. According to the Nuclear Power Development Plan, the ministry plans to have a national nuclear energy policy developed between this year and 2022.
There is also a plan to strengthen the regulators framework with construction of nuclear plant expected to takeoff around 2023.
The Ministry of Energy plans to have an Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) Mission by 2018. The Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) covers the comprehensive infrastructure required for building a nuclear power programme.
The review mission is conducted by a team of international experts from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to determine 19 infrastructural issues to be considered during the different stages of developing a nuclear power programme.
At the end of January, the Ministry of Energy’s under Secretary, Prisca Boonabantu placed an advertisement for firms or individual to review the legal and institutional framework. The Atomic Energy Act 2008 was passed to regulate the use of ionizing radiation and provide a framework to develop nuclear power generation.
The Nuclear Energy Unit at the Ministry of Energy according to sources is in critical need of personnel with specialized training in power-related field. Sources indicate that the unit has only seven members of staff who have undertaken specialized training in nuclear power related field. The seven according to the source is still inadequate to effectively implement Nuclear Energy Unit’s mandate.
The other challenge relates to financing. Uganda, like Tanzania is focusing on nuclear because it is perceived as future option for generating low carbon electricity. Specific intrinsic risks lay with the construction risk profile and technology risks during construction. Electricity generation is a highly capital-intensive activity with significant upfront costs.
Other studies have found that Nuclear power plants feature the highest overnight cost, the largest capacity, operate for very long periods of time (60 years) and take longer to build than other power plant generation technologies.
But funding to Nuclear is more challenging than other power generation. The Nuclear Power Development Plan remains silent about likely source of funding.
The a source at Ministry of foreign Affairs told URN that the government is looking toward countries with developed capacities like China, Russia and Iran among others for funding.
A delegation from Ministry of Energy lead by the under Secretary, Prisca Boonabantu was at the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) China and at the Nuclear and Radiation Safety Center in Beijing at the beginning of this month partly seeking support for nuclear energy.
In mid-April, State Minister for Energy, Simon D’ujanga signed a memorandum of Understanding with the Russian Federation officials in Kampala. They agreed to cooperate in the peaceful application of atomic energy in the fields of energy, medicine, agriculture, education and research.
Alexander Polyokov signed the memorandum on behalf of the Russian State Corporation ROSATOM delegation. In October 2016, a delegation from Rosatom, led by Viktor Polikarpov, the company’s regional vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa, visited Uganda and held talks with President Yoweri Museveni over the nuclear energy prospects.
The Russians according to sources could easily get the multi-million dollar Uganda nuclear dealing that could involves supplying the technology for nuclear plants and nuclear fuel among others. Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has been promoting Russian nuclear technologies at Russian embassies.
Officials at Energy Ministry and government are yet to meet to decide on the possibility of the power plants being constructed on build-own-operate (BOO) or other funding mechanism.