What role can nuclear energy play in Africa’s climate transition? | Climate crisis

I am paying close attention to the activist messages and protests surrounding the COP26 process, with particular attention to whether African interests are fairly represented in the discourse.

As a nuclear policy analyst, I find COP26 very interesting in many ways. Thanks to the unremitting efforts of the Nuclear Disarmament Organization, people are increasingly aware that the interconnection between nuclear war and climate change is a terrible existential threat that requires immediate attention. Both of these threats are “man-made”, and if they are not mitigated, it is possible to wipe out the existence of human beings on the earth.

None of these existential threats can be avoided in isolation. After all, what are the benefits of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions, but even a “limited” nuclear war will lead to another environmental disaster?

Although the radical message about nuclear weapons is very simple—nuclear weapons must disappear—the broader nuclear technology issues and their impact on climate change have triggered more complex and subtle conversations: a simple and direct argument is more difficult to determine—more Needless to say, it was transformed into political ammunition for activist purposes.

In this conversation, three different types of nuclear activism emerged, peddled by different organizations and groups.

First of all, some people wholeheartedly support the intensive deployment of nuclear power plants, believing that if nuclear power is not included in the energy structure, the COP26 climate goal will not be achieved. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are some of the more credible voices taking this position. Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, even made it clear: “Nuclear energy is part of the solution to global warming, and there is no way to bypass it.”

Unsurprisingly, nuclear lobbyists quickly grasped this view as a way to ensure their organizational interests and market share. All in all, there is hardly any discussion about nuclear weapons or the proliferation risks associated with such a large-scale nuclear deployment.

The second camp is characterized by organizations that explicitly reject the idea of ​​nuclear power as a viable decarbonization solution. For example, Greenpeace criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for announcing the construction of a new nuclear reactor as a way to achieve its carbon emission targets and keep energy prices “under control”, arguing that the plan was “out of touch with reality” and ” We do not “do not need nuclear power to deal with climate change.”

In support of this radicalism, some nuclear disarmament organizations try to use their broad support for the abolition of nuclear weapons to push against nuclear energy. For example, the nuclear disarmament movement has issued a petition calling on the British government to immediately stop all nuclear energy production.

In addition to raising concerns about nuclear explosions and radioactive dust, random dumping of radioactive waste, environmental pollution, and uranium mining, this radicalism has also led to entanglement between civilian nuclear projects and military applications, and the rational use of civilian energy infrastructure. Worry. Conceal the true cost Nuclear weapons program.

In view of the growing synergy between nuclear activism and climate activism, it has become increasingly clear that the discourse space for more nuanced positions is rapidly disappearing. It is easy to ignore the silence of the third camp. They have always supported nuclear disarmament and are not entirely opposed to nuclear energy production. Unsurprisingly, many people in this camp are Africans.

When discussing ways to achieve net zero emissions of greenhouse gases and global zero emissions, we must not ignore the development interests of the African continent. After all, African countries’ carbon emissions are less than 4% of the world’s carbon emissions. However, the African continent is particularly vulnerable to the expected impact of global warming. In addition, about half of Africa’s rapidly growing population still lack access to reliable and affordable electricity-a situation known as “energy poverty.”

Any sustainable way forward must take into account the growing energy needs of the African continent. The fact that Africa has a rapidly growing population and economy, and is burdened with the infrastructure development needed to mitigate the negative impact of climate change, means that we should strive to build a high-energy future for Africa while controlling carbon emissions.

This requires the rapid development of the power grid and the large-scale development of renewable and low-carbon energy, not just to quell the domestic and industrial energy demand in Africa today.according to Research The third way is to cooperate with energy for growth. It is estimated that the energy demand of Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Kenya and Rwanda will increase by 804%, 939%, 3368%, 1684% and 4866% respectively.

These forecasts may increase if additional infrastructure development requirements are taken into account to mitigate the effects of global warming. In this forecast, South Africa is the only country in Africa whose energy demand is expected to decrease, at -27%.

Considering the complex and dynamic issues I have raised so far, I will borrow the words of Kenyan activist and scientist Ross Mutiso to remind our policymakers and activists: “…make no mistake: the world cannot expect Africa to maintain Poverty caused by energy and climate change.”

In our thinking and deliberation on how to ensure a sustainable and green future, we cannot impose simple solutions on Africa’s development interests. We need to go beyond the absolutist framework of the role of nuclear energy in our future energy structure, and we need to carefully examine the possible role of nuclear energy in Africa.

Going beyond authoritarian discourse will require being more sensitive to the expressed and implied wishes of many African countries that have so far supported multilateral disarmament diplomacy. In some cases, take Ghana as an example.Ghana Has been a supporter for a long time Nuclear disarmament, and played a key role in organizing protests against France’s nuclear weapons test in Western Sahara in the 1960s. Ghana has also signed the Nuclear Ban Treaty, but it has not yet ratified it.

By 2030, the country’s aggressive actions in nuclear disarmament will also be accompanied by progress towards nuclear energy infrastructure development and preparation plans. Vibrant community Young professionals who recommend nuclear energy as a viable solution to their energy scarcity.

Nigeria is another example of a country that does not consider nuclear disarmament and nuclear energy to be mutually exclusive. It is both a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and a signatory to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Energy.

The Executive Secretary of the African Nuclear Energy Commission stated in a statement issued at the 65th session of the International Atomic Energy Agency that “more than 12 African countries are considering including nuclear power in their energy structure strategies”. A 2020 Wilton Park survey found that African policymakers, diplomats, and scholars are recommending the use of the next NPT Review Conference to raise people’s recommendations for Africa’s continuing interests in the peaceful use of nuclear energy and technology A broad consensus was reached behind the scenes.

However, apart from South America, Africa has the largest number of signatories to the nuclear ban treaty and has played an important role. Important leadership In terms of nuclear disarmament. As shown in the Pelindaba Treaty, Africa is also a nuclear-weapon-free zone. What I want to make here is that nuclear disarmament advocacy is a broad and diverse interest group, and the crude stigma of everything about nuclear energy may be seen as another paternalistic neglect and obliteration of African interests.

Supporting nuclear disarmament and supporting nuclear energy are not mutually exclusive ideas. In fact, for at least four years, the view that promoted African countries to support nuclear disarmament has long been established.

For nuclear energy advocates, lobbyists, and supportive governments, I think it’s more Honest information And analyze the true cost of nuclear energy (financial, environmental, and human).

Africa has a large amount of untapped natural resources and huge potential for renewable energy. At first glance, given the speed required to deploy solutions to alleviate energy poverty in Africa, I think it is wise to recommend that African countries prioritize and utilize their existing renewable energy potential. Nuclear energy should be seen as the final solution.

Existing nuclear reactor designs are particularly vulnerable to project and cost overruns, in addition Proliferation problem Taking into account the current security situation in Africa, these situations have been magnified. Before the development and deployment of a viable and cost-effective small modular reactor (SMR), I am concerned that the existing nuclear reactor design may be more attractive to leaders and politicians who value the “White Elephant Project” and consider nuclear energy to be particularly important . From this perspective, attractive options and cash cows.

The possibility of radioactive contamination must also be clarified, during the uranium extraction and processing stage, and nuclear waste management. For the former, protecting people and the environment around the mining site is a governance issue that cannot be ignored.

If dangerous uranium extraction practices are carried out in the following locations Niger, Gabon and Madagascar are likely to replicate, so I think the nuclear industry is best to stay away from the mainland. There are no shortcuts to due diligence and good governance. For the latter, before seriously considering any dialogue about nuclear reactor deployment, sustainable radioactive waste management tools need to be developed and standardized.

Recently discovered deep geological repository technologies, such as those used in the Onkalo spent fuel repository in Finland, may be a viable candidate in this regard.

In short, there are a lot of related problems and concerns surrounding the implementation of nuclear energy projects in Africa, some of which can be overcome through technological innovation. However, many of the most pressing issues are political issues, which can only be alleviated through a stronger, more transparent, more inclusive, and more accountable governance framework. And these problems must be fully resolved in advance.

Although Africa should not be expected to sacrifice its prospects for future economic development due to climate change, the continent should not rush into a dumping ground for experimental or problematic nuclear technologies and technologies.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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