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Global community to influence nuclear production in Namibia- Alweendo

by Kelvin Chiringa

In spite of a renewed interest to pursue nuclear energy production locally, buoyed by possibilities of Russian assistance, mines and energy minister, Tom Alweendo, has said that the global attitude to nuclear energy will influence whether Namibia will go for nuclear or not.

Russian minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, was on a whirlwind tour of African countries, and his visit to Namibia revealed that projects between the two countries on Uranium ore exploration, mining and processing are set to commence. 

The visit also saw international relations and cooperation minister, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah indicating that negotiations are ongoing to sign a memorandum of understanding on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

“A 10-year moratorium on applications for exclusive prospecting licences (EPLs) for nuclear fuel minerals was terminated effective 15 December 2016, providing an opportunity for further exploration within the country,” Institute for Public Policy Research notes. 

This also comes hot behind the heels of a Chinese proposal last year to build a small scale nuclear plant in Namibia.

 Responding to The Villager at a media engagement, Alweendo said the setting up of such a plant will not be that fast but the plan remains on the table.

Given the politics around nuclear energy, costs of building a plant and the potential consequences this has for the environment in a world that is fast embracing intermittent sources of energy, The Villager wanted to establish from the minister if a nuclear plant was the right step forward.

Said the minister, “Some of these issues like nuclear energy are a global managed kind of activity and therefore you should only do that if the global environment say that you can do that.”

He indicated that if the world entirely migrates from the source of energy, Namibia will find itself having to abort even the sale of raw materials.

“So we hope that the global environment will continue to support the usage of nuclear energy as a clean source of energy,” he said.

However, Alweendo reiterated that given that Namibia is the fifth producer of the Uranium, it would make sense to start thinking about value addition and add to the national grid.

Namibia is able to generate only 40% of electricity which falls short of meeting current demand and has to rely on the Sadc pool for an additional supply.

This comes with huge costs spanning billions of dollars annually.   

“We are a producer for the raw material for nuclear energy, we are the producer of Uranium and therefore why should it not be possible for us to do that? In the long run, that’s something we have to think about.”

He said the process of developing nuclear energy from Uranium is fairly long.

“We are the fifth producer of Uranium and there are projections that we could discover more. If you keep discovering more of the Uranium, obviously it makes sense to say in the long run should we not start to think about whether we can tap into this kind of energy,” he said.

Meanwhile, IPPR says that downstream beneficiation of uranium requires a high degree of specialised labour, of which there is a severe shortage within Namibia.   

“For Namibia, however, it appears unlikely that Nuclear power-stations will be of use. The reasons for this are that Nuclear power tends to be of a significantly larger scale than Namibia’s power demands require, as well as significantly more expensive than conventional thermal (and increasingly, renewable) power.” 

“Given that Namibia needs access to cheap power to industrialise, and would need to sell the excess (expensive) power into the region (where cheaper thermal power is available), it is highly unlikely that a nuclear power-plant will be viable in Namibia for a number of decades. However, on the off-chance that such a plant becomes viable, it is still likely to be more efficient to purchase enriched uranium from one of the global enrichers, than to carry out that phase of the value-chain in Namibia,” says the think tank.