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Russia Leverages Its Nuclear Expertise in Africa

By Published On: April 11, 20243.6 min readViews: 3200 Comments on Russia Leverages Its Nuclear Expertise in Africa
While the West has worked hard to wean itself off of Russian fossil fuels in the wake of the country’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Kremlin is still raking in the rubles from strong nuclear sector exports. As a result, the Ukraine war grinds on as Russia has managed to sidestep much of the economic damage that sanctions were expected to deliver. However, while the Russian economy is surviving, it certainly isn’t thriving. 

In order to stay afloat, Russia needs to explore more alliances and options for exports and trade partners. With no sign of relations with the West thawing any time soon, Russia seems to be betting big on the nuclear energy sector and nuclear fuel exports. The Kremlin also seems to be scouting out new economic alliances in emerging economies, and particularly in Africa. 

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In general, energy ventures in African countries have enormous growth potential as the continent faces rapid industrialization paired with massive population growth. Nuclear offers a particularly alluring option to African nations that are faced with the stark challenge of growing their economies while ‘leapfrogging’ over the development of the continent’s abundant fossil fuel resources straight to clean energy development and buildout. 

Nuclear offers reliable, baseload power without any carbon emissions, and doesn’t have the energy security issues associated with the variability of renewable energies such as solar and wind power, which produce in accordance with weather patterns rather than to meet demand. This makes the addition of nuclear energy production capacity a particularly promising way forward for Africa, which already deals with significant energy security woes. Across the continent, about 600 million people lack access to electricity today. And even in countries that do have developed energy grids, such as South Africa, rolling blackouts are a common occurrence



All of this is to say that the African nuclear sector is likely poised for enormous growth. Over the past year, a number of African countries including Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya have announced plans to build nuclear reactors. This push comes as part of a broader global effort to increase investment in nuclear energy expansion as the climate change doomsday clock keeps ticking ever closer to midnight. Africa’s nuclear energy sector, in particular, has nowhere to go but up as nations across the continent need all the energy addition they can get. 





And Russia wants to capitalize on that enormous investment opportunity. On a global level, Russian state-operated nuclear energy firm Rosatom is one of the primary exporters of nuclear fuel, uranium enrichment services, and funding for the construction of new nuclear facilities. This last service is particularly critical in developing economies, as building a new nuclear plant is prohibitively expensive for nearly any private company, even in locations with strong economies and currencies. As a result, nearly one in five nuclear power plants on the planet is either in Russia or is Russian-built. And any expansion in worldwide nuclear power deployment is therefore a boon to the Kremlin’s bottom line.

Already, Russia is making aggressive plays to get in on the ground floor of Africa’s nuclear energy revolution in what the Financial Times recently called a “high-profile charm offensive.” Rosatom recently publicized nuclear energy “co-operation” agreements inked with Mali, Burkina Faso and Algeria. This will build on Russia’s current construction efforts in Egypt, where Rosatom is already building a fourth reactor at the $30bn El Dabaa nuclear power plant. The plant, located outside of Cario, is one of the biggest nuclear construction projects in the world. In order to build the mega-project, Egypt has borrowed a hefty $25 billion from Russia, to be repaid over next 35 years with 3% annual interest. 

Some experts have warned that this is a dangerous dependence for emerging economies such as Egypt and other African nations. “The drawback is that the country develops a strong long-term dependence on Russia to meet one of its most basic needs: electricity provision,” says Hartmut Winkler, professor of physics at the University of Johannesburg. Leaning on a country that is currently at war, and therefore not the most reliable of trade partners, threatens “disruption and ultimate termination of projects already in place.” This is particularly troubling in the context of nuclear power plants, which take over a decade to build.



By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com 

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