An East African country with Nuclear ambitions: How far is the country willing to go?

Events that have unfolded in the country in the last 5 years point to the Uganda government’s resolve to use its uranium with in the country instead of exporting it. When the  former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited the country in 2010, he promised that Iran would help Uganda develop its nuclear energy programme, then early this year on the sidelines of a meeting he held with Rwanda’s president Paul kagame in Kampala, President yoweri Museveni revealed that the Government of Uganda is looking to nuclear energy to offset the power shortage in the country, then a week ago, the Government of Uganda signed a deal with the UN’s Atomic Energy watch Dog the International Atomic Energy Agency where the IAEA would help the country pursue civil nuclear capabilities, ranging from medical to energy. The deal was signed by Energy minister Irene Muloni according to the minister “The focus of the cooperation will be feasibility studies for nuclear power projects, uranium exploration and evaluation, cancer management, food and agriculture, water resources management and strengthening the national nuclear and radiation safety infrastructure.” However Joshua Tuhumwire a former commissioner with the Department of Geology, survey and Mines says if Uganda is to ever have Nuclear energy, it will take about 20-50 more years and all this excitement around the issue is unnecessary. Even as experts say it takes about 10 years to construct a nuclear power plant, one of the companies that intend to undertake the project Canada’s IBI corporation says they can have a nuclear power plant up and running in five years, a normal French made Areva nuclear power plant would cost 10 billion dollars which is about 25 trillion Uganda shillings, two times the country’s national budget, and it would take about 10-15 years to train the scientists who will run the plant. Dr Abel Rwendeire who is the vice chairperson of the National planning Authority in Uganda says they have already embarked on the training for the scientists and by the time the first power station is commissioned, there will be scientists to man it. This goes on to show that the country has no nuclear plan and is planning on its feet and according to information obtained from the energy ministry, the government would also be required to build an alternative power grid for nuclear power because it can’t be added onto the national grid this points to more infrastructure expenses Gov’t Officials and experts on different sides So will Uganda as a country benefit? Why don’t they just export the uranium? President Yoweri museveni insists that Uganda as a country can benefit from Nuclear energy and will not export even a single Gramm of uranium “we are training our scientists in nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and as long as I’m president, no one is going to export uranium. Why should we light a neighbour’s house when ours is in darkness’ he said. However when asked about the same project in a newspaper interview, former energy Minister Hillary onek who is also a Hydro engineer said the country had a hydro electricity production capacity of 4000 megawatts and would have to maximize all that before they can look at other alternatives. Anthony Mukama a geologist wonders why a country in between two fault lines and an earthquake zone would even be thinking of an energy alternative as dangerous as Nuclear energy ‘where were these people during the Japanese floods and the fukushima nuclear plant meltdown?” He says Ugandan should be looking at wind and solar energy as options and staying as far away from nuclear energy as possible, it is not secure from natural hazards yet it is a hazard itself to the humans that create it and use it if mishandled. Joshua Tuhumwire says the surveys the country is relying on are Ariel surveys and could be unreliable, he also states that the “airborne geophysical survey results that indicate radioactive host rocks, mainly granites – causes could be from uranium or thorium with little or no economic potential” he however dismisses the stated danger about the country being in between two fault lines saying only one fault line is active he says that While the Western Rift is tectonically active and most recorded earthquakes including the 1966 (magnitude of 6.6 on Richter scale) and 1994 (M =6.4) originate from the Bwamba fault near Fort Portal, the Eastern or Gregory Rift is very quiet with no seismic history. Japan is much more seismically active than Uganda and has had nuclear plants for decades, so are China and USA. Most of Uganda sits on the African craton, which is stable old rock formation.

Regional contradictions At a regional and African level Uganda’s nuclear energy ambitions seem to be upstaging The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) strategy where African countries agreed to harness their comparative advantages over others instead of competing with each other. Under this arrangement, the option would be for Uganda to import energy from countries that have excess like Ethiopia which will be producing 12,000 megawatts of electricity in a years’ time of which it can only consume half of that. However Uganda is serious about the Nuclear energy, the country identified land in mukono where it will construct its nuclear waste plant and like all questions on energy in Uganda the answers are to be found in the ministry of energy and this time an official who preferred anonymity told us that Uganda like most African countries is addicted to hydroelectricity and cannot do without it, so bending the decision makers to alternative sources which require hefty investments is a hard sale” he says. Uganda’s electricity production stands at 69.5 kilowatts per capita which is far below the global average of 2,752 kilowatts per capita and according to the government, nuclear power is one of the options the country is looking at. The country’s energy troubles began 6 years ago when the water levels in the River Nile and in the lake Victoria basin where at an all-time low, electricity generation went down, increasing load shedding and the cost of doing business in Uganda. The minister of energy at the time Hon. Daudi migereko announced that the country would be using nuclear power by 2018 and her uranium deposits would be used for this purpose, a study was conducted by the world bank and African Development Bank and it found that Uganda has over 40,000 square kilometres of land with Uranium deposits, with other deposits found in lake albert, Uganda immediately passed laws to govern the sector establishing the Nuclear Energy council, and the Nuclear Energy Unit. It also started collaborating with the U.N nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.and the Chief Executive Officer of the Atomic Energy Council Deogratius Luwalira recently revealed that government plans to construct storage facility for safe storage of nuclear related waste. The plant according to Luwalira will be located in Mukono and even though the 2018 date that the then energy minister gave has been pushed ahead more than two times, it looks like the country will have nuclear energy in the near future

Events that have unfolded in the country in the last 5 years point to the Uganda government’s resolve to use its uranium with in the country instead of exporting it. When the former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited the country in 2010, he promised that Iran would help Uganda develop its nuclear energy programme, then early this year on the sidelines of a meeting he held with Rwanda’s president Paul kagame in Kampala, President yoweri Museveni revealed that the Government of Uganda is looking to nuclear energy to offset the power shortage in the country, then a week ago, the Government of Uganda signed a deal with the UN’s Atomic Energy watch Dog the International Atomic Energy Agency where the IAEA would help the country pursue civil nuclear capabilities, ranging from medical to energy. The deal was signed by Energy minister Irene Muloni according to the minister “The focus of the cooperation will be feasibility studies for nuclear power projects, uranium exploration and evaluation, cancer management, food and agriculture, water resources management and strengthening the national nuclear and radiation safety infrastructure.”
However Joshua Tuhumwire a former commissioner with the Department of Geology, survey and Mines says if Uganda is to ever have Nuclear energy, it will take about 20-50 more years and all this excitement around the issue is unnecessary.