Nuclear agenda in Africa under spotlight, as Rosatom launches wind energy firm

Rosatom's Unit 4 at Rostov Nuclear Power Plant in Russia under construction. (Photo: Matthew le Cordeur)
Rosatom's Unit 4 at Rostov Nuclear Power Plant in Russia under construction. (Photo: Matthew le Cordeur)

Cape Town – Russia’s nuclear agenda in Africa came under the spotlight this week, after Rosatom announced the launch of a major wind energy subsidiary.

Russia’s state-owned nuclear firm this month announced the formation a new wind energy subsidiary to manage 970 MW of new capacity being developed, but assured Fin24 this week that nuclear energy is still its core business. The firm, NovaWind, will start with a capital backing of about R255bn, according to Wind Power Monthly.

Rosatom is a frontrunner in South Africa’s stalled 9.6 GW nuclear new build programme, which many expect it will win. Various other countries in Africa have shown interest or signed deals for Rosatom’s nuclear reactors. Showing how serious it is about turning Africa into a nuclear energy powerhouse, the firm has an established office in Johannesburg.

With its focus on selling nuclear reactors in Africa, it is curious that the firm is moving into the wind sector, according to Russian environmental policy expert Vladimir Slivyak.

Slivyak, addressing a gathering in Cape Town this week, said he believes Rosatom is looking to increase its focus on the lucrative wind sector. His reasoning was the lack of money in Russia and the need to develop projects outside the country to bring in much-need revenue. With the West moving to wind energy, it made sense to develop this industry, Slivyak explained.

He said it was therefore concerning that Rosatom is pushing its “expensive” reactors to poor countries, which are sold on the notion that they will transform their economies, “like it did for the West”, Slivyak explained. “Why are those same Western countries now ditching nuclear?” he asked.

Slivyak, an anti-nuclear activist based in Moscow, is well known in South Africa for leaking Russia’s agreement with South Africa in 2014.

“It makes sense to move into the renewable energy field,” he said. “We can see that even the nuclear energy market is saying nuclear is bad. The Russian energy industry has started to advertise itself to fight climate change.
“Nuclear power cannot really save this climate change crisis,” he said. “You have to invest a lot of money and even if you do this, you get a small result. There are currently 450 nuclear reactors operating around the world and these were built in the last 50 to 60 years.

“If you take all the money in the world and build another 450 reactors, you would have to spend $4.5trn. This would only see an emission reduction of 6%, while solar and wind energy would see the emissions reduce to 0%,” he said.  

“It takes 10 years to build one reactor and several months to build a solar or wind plant,” he said. “With nuclear, you have to invest today and wait 10 to 30 years. With renewables, you invest today, and in half a year you may already get your energy.

“There is not much money going into nuclear,” he said. “This has been happening for last 15 years, so you can’t blame nuclear’s decline on accidents like Fukushima. It has been because of bad economics and a waste problem it can’t solve.

“If you pump all the money into nuclear, there will be no money for healthcare or education. Then maybe you will wait a few decades before the power station works. If you country goes for nuclear, you will be stuck with it for 100 years.”

Koeberg, based outside Cape Town, is South Africa's only nuclear power station.

Nuclear is still core to Rosatom

In response to queries to Rosatom regarding these viewpoints, a senior official, who requested to remain unnamed, gave this reassurance to Fin24 on Wednesday:

“Rosatom considers nuclear power as an important component of the global energy mix. We all understand that ‘green’ energy is our future. Solar, wind, hydro and nuclear power complement and reinforce each other to form a green square, which will essentially become the base for the world's future carbon-free energy mix.

“According to the forecasts of the International Energy Agency, the aggregate share of ‘clean’ generation in the global balance must exceed 80% by 2050. Installed Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) capacity must therefore increase to 930 GW to meet the world’s clean energy demands. Nuclear and renewables are not competitors; all ‘green’ power sources are part of the solution to the global climate change issue.

“It is true that Rosatom is now investing in wind, but nuclear remains our core business.  We see that investments in nuclear energy yield more dividends as they are still far cheaper than other clean energy sources.

“We also believe that only nuclear power can be considered a permanent and independent clean energy source, which can provide efficient baseload generation. Africa needs reliable, affordable and clean power such as nuclear to effectively develop its economy.

“Rosatom is currently implementing eight new nuclear energy projects in Russia; we understand how efficient and safe nuclear energy is and we want to share our best practices with countries who really need it.

“Besides the projects being implemented in Russia, we are also implementing 34 NPP projects across the globe, including in the European countries of Finland and Hungary, where Rosatom is implementing its cutting edge generation 3+ VVER-1200 reactors.

“The VVER-1200, the first and only Generation 3+ reactor in the world, is successfully in operation at the Russian Novovoronezh NPP, making it a fully referenced technology. The unit fully complies with all of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s post-Fukushima requirements.

“Besides nuclear and wind, Rosatom has also developed innovative containerised mini-hydro power plants, which are considered to be great solution for remote areas, particularly in Africa. The mini-hydro units do not require the construction of a dam and have no impact on the environment of rivers and other water bodies.

“The fact that the units are containerised and require very little infrastructure make them easy to install in very remote areas. Thanks to their innovative design, mini-hydro plants can even be installed at discharge channels of water treatment facilities or in-line at mining and industrial facilities. One 2 MW mini-hydro plant can provide electricity for more than 300 houses.

“Rosatom is a global company with a wealth of expertise in the power sector and is actively developing all sectors of clean energy. We consider solar, wind, hydro and nuclear as vital components of the globes future clean energy mix.”

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