How Russia Is Expanding Its Vast Nuclear Empire Into Africa

By Dana Sanchez Published: May 19, 2016, 5:00 pm
How Russia Is Expanding Its nuclear empire into AfricaUkraine's Rivne Nuclear Power Plant in the country's northwest. Photo: Wikimedia commons

Russia’s government-owned nuclear agency Rosatom hopes to use South Africa as a springboard into the rest Africa as it seeks to expand its influence on the continent by building nuclear power plants.

Rosatom plans to sign framework cooperation agreements with Kenya, Uganda and Zambia, adding to those already made with South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana, Reuters reported.

Right now, South Africa may be the best prospect. Nigeria looks less likely as its economy contracts in the global oil price plunge.

“Given the extremely bad economic situation in Nigeria today, it might take a bit longer. But the government and the new president are still determined to go nuclear,” said Viktor Polikarpov, Rosatom’s vice-president of sub-Saharan Africa.

South Africa in 2015 approved a plan to develop up to 600 megawatts of nuclear capacity by 2030 as part of a bigger plan to build 9,600 megawatts of nuclear power at up to nine new nuclear reactors.

President Jacob Zuma said he wants to reduce the country’s reliance on coal and reduce power shortages. Critics of the nuclear power plan say it’s too expensive — it could cost as much as $100 billion, Bloomberg reported in IndependentOnline.

Environmental activist group Greenpeace warned the ANC in 2015 to abandon nuclear build plans or face massive resistance, NuclearNews reported.

“The ANC needs to know that if it does go for the nuclear option as part of the (energy) mix, then they are on a collision course with the broader spectrum of the South African civil society,” said Greenpeace Director Kumi Naidoo.

Russia has competition to do the nuclear build from China, France and South Korea, Reuters reported. It’s already planning to seek more deals across the region that range from building power plants to supplying reactor fuel.

“What we are targeting is to build South Africa as a nuclear cluster of nuclear industries so that we can use our partners and our partnership for our expansion into Africa,” Polikarpov said in an interview Tuesday in Cape Town.

Rosatom can offer financing options, Polikarpov said, according to Bloomberg. These include a contract with a state-export credit offered to the government of South Africa, a buyer-owner operator agreement, a public-private partnership, or a combination of them.

Under Valdimir Putin, Russia caught the West off guard with military incursions in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria – moves which few analysts foresaw, GeopoliticalMonitor reported. As a result, Russia suffered some economic sanctions, but it has persisted with exporting nuclear technology all over the world. This policy has allowed Rosatom to become one of the world’s leading nuclear powerhouses.

Rosatom has 29 projects underway in Turkey, Armenia, Finland, Belarus, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India and China. It operates in 40 countries with overseas orders for the next 10 years exceeding $101 billion. There are 72 Russian designed reactors worldwide and 29 more due to be built by 2030. Rosatom has 17 percent market share of the nuclear fuel fabrication. One out of 6 reactors in the world operate with Russian nuclear fuel. It has 36 percent of the worlds uranium enrichment market and employs 260,000 workers, according to GeopoliticalMonitor:

The expansion serves not only economic purposes, but more importantly – strategic geopolitical purposes. By developing and maintaining projects with 60-plus years of useful life, the Kremlin is ensuring a steady presence on almost every single continent.

Many countries have looked to scale back their nuclear power programs. On the other hand, this source of energy is perceived as desirable by regimes across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

The allure of the turnkey nuclear power plant, built, owned and operated by Rosatom, allows governments across the world to embrace such projects. But for Russia they are much more than a major economic export. They are another geopolitical tool, allowing the Kremlin to tie up strategic governments into long-term cooperation.





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