Namibia to go nuclear

Namibia, southern Africa’s largest producer of uranium, said the current arrangement under which the country relies on neighbouring South Africa for its electricity needs was not sustainable.

Joseph Iita, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Mines and Energy, said the government was considering using the available uranium to generate enough electricity to meet its industrial development goals as stipulated in the national developmental plan, Vision 2030.

The aim is also to generate extra electricity which could be exported to other power-starved regional countries.

This is the first time the government has made public plans to convert uranium into electricity.

The revelation also raises fears about the rest of southern Africa’s preparedness to deal with a looming power shortage in 2007 and beyond.

The announcement comes barely a month after the South African government announced that it would be pursuing a plan to enrich uranium for civilian purposes and help meet the country and the region’s electricity requirements.

Iita explained that Namibia has a limited power supply arrangement with South Africa and is also running two diesel and coal-fired thermal power plants with a combined installed capacity of 144 megawatts to meet peak demand requirements.

“Although this enabled Namibia to maintain the status quo in the short term, both options are not financially sustainable and still fall short of addressing the key issues of reliability, security, adequacy and sustainability of supply to effectively support economic development,” Iita said.

Namibia’s electricity generation woes are made worse by the fact that the country does not have internal rivers that flow throughout the year and, thus, lacks sources of hydropower generation. The only perennial rivers the country has are Kunene, Kavango (bordering Angola), Zambezi and Orange, bordering Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa.

“The commercial exploitation of the hydropower potential of the shared rivers depends on the political will of neighbouring countries within the context of international bilateral agreements. This actual lack of flexibility constitutes a substantial constraint, particularly in addressing the short-term and long-term needs of the Namibian electricity supply industry,” Iita explained. He added that Namibia’s inevitable reliance on imported coal and diesel fuels does not make the thermal power generation option sustainable as well.

“Despite all these impediments, however, the challenge to address the security, reliability, adequacy and efficiency of supply has never been more real.”

Namibia has eight known deposits of uranium in its vast deserts. So far only two mining companies, Rossing Uranium and Langer Heinrich Uranium, are exploiting the resource.

Two other mining firms, Trekkopje and Valencia, say they are planning to come on stream in the next two years.

Government says that about N$1.52 billion has so far been invested in the uranium mining industry.

Iita said the country is privileged to have substantial deposits of uranium whose current exploitation makes the country the world’s sixth largest producer.

Iita said Namibia would soon replace Kazakhstan as third biggest uranium producer in the world.

He added that using part of uranium oxide for local electricity generation would go a long way in addressing the power shortage and hence sustainability contributes to the national development goals.

“Given the current scenarios and the unabated power crisis, Namibia is seriously considering using the available nuclear fuel (uranium) to generate enough electricity to meet its industrial development goals as stipulated in the national development plan or Vision 2030.

“Given the general power shortage in the region, the surplus power can always be exported to other SADC (Southern African Development Community) countries through firm power purchase agreements,” Iita said.

This is the first time the Namibian government has publicly stated its intention to embark on uranium enrichment. Iita, however, could not disclose whether any companies had expressed interest in investing in the uranium power sector.

He said Namibia would be seeking to be provided with expertise from countries with experience in uranium enrichment for electricity generation.

Iita said the government anticipates closer collaboration with the Nuclear Power Division of the Department of Nuclear Energy within the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“Recognising that expanding the benefits of the peaceful use of nuclear science and technology is a fundamental mandate for the IAEA, Namibia seeks to be provided with the core engineering, technological and management support in the field of nuclear power, with specific emphasis on electricity generation,” Iita said. He said the country expects to benefit from information and expertise on internationally accepted proven engineering and management practices in all relevant areas such as technical and human performance, change management, implementation of management systems and a total quality management approach to nuclear power plant operations.

The official said that Namibia would soon be conducting a feasibility study on exploitation of uranium for nuclear power generation with the parallel objective of building local capacity through training and technology transfer.

October 2006
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