Zambia has just signed four memoranda of understanding with Rosatom, Russia’s state-run nuclear agency, with a view to signing a nuclear deal worth $10-billion.

While government has hailed the deal as a way to solve Zambia’s ongoing energy crisis, Zambians should be asking difficult questions – especially given Rosatom’s track record in South Africa.

When Zambian President Edgar Lungu addressed Parliament in September, he announced a bold new energy strategy: Zambia is going nuclear.
“We are going to have a diversified energy mix including nuclear energy. In this regard, I am happy to announce that we have good progress with nuclear energy partners both at governmental and private sector level,” said Lungu.

Three months later, we now have a better idea of what he was talking about. In a ceremony in Lusaka’s plush Pamodzi Hotel on Tuesday, Zambian government representatives signed a series of Memoranda of Understanding with Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear agency.

The deal, which is not legally binding, sets out a 15-year nuclear co-operation plan, with the eventual goal of constructing a nuclear gigawatt nuclear power plant.

In addition, Rosatom will help train Zambian nuclear engineers, develop a nuclear energy regulator, and spearhead nuclear research in the country.

Local media estimate the total value of the deal to be $10-billion (that’s nearly half of Zambia’s GDP).

“This is the result of the instruction by President Lungu for the country to develop nuclear energy to respond to challenges of load shedding and reduce the cost of medicine and agriculture,” said cabinet secretary Roland Msiska.

“The hope is to construct nuclear power plants in the future but in order to get there a number of steps need to be followed and the appropriate training and regulatory bodies need to be in place. The agreements will assist with this,” a representative for Rosatom told Daily Maverick.
“This is laid out over a long period and will start with a nuclear science and technology centre. This centre would essentially assist Zambia to safely and effectively move into the nuclear industry and allow them to master nuclear technologies and help develop workforce capacity in the nuclear sector,” he added.

There’s no doubt that Zambia needs an energy plan. Daily power cuts have become the norm as Zesco, the state energy company, struggles to meet growing demand.

The country relies on hydropower for 95% of its energy needs, but the severe drought experienced in southern Africa over the last couple of years has meant that Kariba Dam is nearly dry, and unable to produce nearly as much power as it did before.
But is nuclear really the solution? As Zambia prepares to go down the nuclear road, they could learn a few lessons from down south. Although South Africa has successfully operated a nuclear power station at Koeberg for several decades, a government initiative to build two new nuclear power stations has been mired in controversy, with Rosatom playing a central role in the drama. Based on the South African experience, here are three questions that Zambians should be asking.

1. Does Zambia need nuclear power?

There’s no question that Zambia needs power. But nuclear power might not be the best solution. It’s not just the inherent dangers associated with nuclear power, although that is a factor; but also the nature of the energy generated. Nuclear power stations produce a steady “base line” supply of energy, which may not be appropriate for Zambia’s needs. Nuclear power can’t be turned on and off in response to supply and demand.
The scale of Zambia’s proposed nuclear plant indicates that the government intends to address its energy deficit through one showpiece project, rather than several smaller projects. This means that Zambia would be vulnerable if anything went wrong with the nuclear plant.
“It’s putting all your eggs in one basket,” commented Chris Yelland, energy analyst and managing director of EE Publishers.
Critics of South Africa’s proposed nuclear deal have highlighted similar issues, as well as pointing out that South Africa – and, by extension, Zambia – might be better placed to take advantage of the decreasing cost of renewable energy.
“The promotion of nuclear energy at the expense of renewables bucks global trends. An industrial nation like Germany is phasing out nuclear power, and has a much higher renewable energy investment than sunny, windy South Africa. Chinese renewables expansion currently exceeds nuclear development by far,” said Hartmut Winkler, physics professor at the University of Johannesburg, writing in the Mail & Guardian.

2. Can Zambia afford nuclear power?

Nuclear power is expensive. Very expensive. It’s not just the cost of the construction of the nuclear plant itself, although those numbers are eye-watering (especially in an economy as small as Zambia’s, where GDP in 2015 was $21.2-billion). It is also the cost of financing that construction.
With most banks unwilling to take such a massive gamble, financing usually comes from the vendor itself. In South Africa’s case, Rosatom is supposed to fund the construction of the two new nuclear plants, and recoup its costs by selling the electricity generated at an artificially high price. According to the text of a secret agreement uncovered by investigative journalist Lionel Faull, Rosatom will be able to dictate that price at will – leaving South African energy users at the mercy of a foreign corporation.
“South Africa will have a hard time funding the nuclear project we are talking about here, so Zambia is likely to find it even harder. Banks are very reluctant to fund these sort of things, so generally the vendor will help. But this doesn’t come without strings attached. There will be stringent requirements and guarantees,” said Yelland.

3. Will the nuclear deal be corrupt?

Suspicion of corruption immediately attaches itself to any massive infrastructure project, and with good reason – especially in the case of nuclear deals. South Africa appears to be a textbook example of how the massive sums of money at stake can lead both government and corporations astray.

For example, French nuclear company Areva was accused by Sherpa, an anti-corruption NGO, of attempting to bribe high-ranking South African officials by purchasing unprofitable uranium mining assets for an inflated sum, just months before the tender for the nuclear project was announced. Rosatom itself, meanwhile, has been linked with a suspicious lack of transparency, fuelling fears that not all is above board. As Professor Winkler wrote in a separate piece for The Conversation:
“The nuclear debate gained a political dimension when President Jacob Zuma and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, started to develop an unusually close relationship… The lack of transparency surrounding the process, coupled with a history of corruption in South African mega-projects like the arms deal, has made the whole scheme seem suspicious to the broader public,” he said.
With $10-billion up for grabs in the proposed Zambian deal, there are likely to be plenty of greedy hands in the till. It will be up to Zambian media and civil society to expose that corruption when it occurs, and make sure that Zambia goes nuclear only if it’s a good idea for Zambia, and not because someone has been bribed to influence the decision.

By Simon Allison
Daily Maverick

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24 COMMENTS

  1. Where are the solar plants lungu was signing for in Saudi Arabia? As one contributer said on these blogs…

    ” you can’t even manage your garbage in the capital lusaka , how are you going to manege nuclear waste that comes with a power plant ?”

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    • problem is, in zambia where will we through the waste water? Zambia is a land locked country without an ocean to throw the radioactive waste. Russia has ocean, USA has ocean, japan has ocean, iran has ocean and so they can throw that stuff in the ocean. But us we have all fresh water and if we throw the dirt water in our water system then things will be hard for the poor. Let us not go nuclear please.

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  2. Zambia is extremely a poor country to sustain nuclear plant. Nuclear waste is expensive to maintain, it will lead to expose people to these waste which will be a calamity to society.
    Undertaking such a project it requires a lot of money , it will surpass $10 billion the initial figures there are contemplating.
    Solar Plant is the answer to this load shedding problem.Saudi Arabia got these energy from China, why Lungu is going to Saudi Arabia instead of going to China to sign for Solar power.
    We had drought before, Zambia didn’t experience load shedding, because the British turbines which the British left were removed for corruption purposes to replace with Chinese ones just for kickbacks.
    Never allow nuclear energy in this poor nation. If mines can pollute rivers what of nuclear…

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  3. On the contrary all countries except Germany are going the nuclear way and adding other renewables of at least 30% to the Countries Integrated Energy mix to improve the security of Supply name them US SA and others

    WHAT IS CRITICAL IS TO DESIGN A VEHICLE IN WHICH THE NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS ESTABLISHMENT CAN BE ACHIEVED LOOKING AT THE LEAD TIME TO BRING ONE REACTOR ON BOARD

    THIS SPV CAN ACT AS A VEHICLE TO RAISE FUNDING AND MANAGE ANY RESERCH AND COSTS THAT WOULD COME WITH THE POWER PLANTS

    NUCLEAR ENERGY IS COOL IF MANAGED AND THE MINISTER AND THE MINISTRY SHOULD BE SUPPORTED

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  4. Like Koeberg you can manage and avoid any fukushima nuclear wastes

    ITS THE WAY YOU STRUCTURE THE LAWS AND THE NUCLEAR SPV THAT WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE TO ADD A 1 GW AND ACHIEVE THAT SECURITY OF SUPPLY

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  5. Certain things are supposed to remain where they are. Nuclear energy in Zambia will be a disaster, this stuff is poison bane. Just lead in Kabwe is giving us headaches what more this no sense okay kill us.

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  6. Well, I stand against nuclear power at the moment. It’s too risky and too expensive to maintain too. There are a lot of alternatives we can go for. For example, Zambia has a lot of sunshine and a lot of wind too. Light collector panels (or solar cells as they are popularly known) are cheaper to install, cheaper to maintain and produce clean energy. This can also be said about wind turbines.
    We all know how western nations have grappled with the problem of nuclear waste disposal. Zambia is a poor nation. Waste disposal alone will gobble a lot of tax payer money. What with the nuclear accidents that may happen. Remember Chanobyl in Russia and Fukushima in Japan. If such happened in Zambia a lot of wild and human life would be lost, not to mention the environmental damage that can occur…

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  7. That is why there will be capacity to be created and ensure compliancy to best standards With your aging power plants (traditional) ,You will need some base load power in the energy mix within 15 years You need to see the lead times and structure a workable SPV or EPV

    We know that most nuclear 100% are build by SOE(create a workable and bankable spv then first) and 70% IPP driven in case of renewables but the magnitude of power needed requires to go this way and ensure energy security

    Chris Yelland Good and insightful man though learnt a lot from him

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  8. There is often a limit placed on renewables and in view of climate change nuclear energy my provide you with that base load energy especially

    So know your energy demand needs and workout the workable supply needs in the most integrated manner

    Nuclear is clean if well harnessed and may provide you cover in severe weather due to climate change

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    • #Jonathan, you are right. But the big question is: Does Zambia have the capacity to harness? looking at how the mines on the copperbelt contaminate the environment at will and they get away with it. Those water pollutions in Chingola and the the air pollution in Mufulira where deaths were recorded. Life has continued as if nothing happened, the Govt is toothless to big investors. Now talk about radioactive uranium wastes !!!!!!!

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  9. You may not also say sub Sahara is energy surplus and leave it to your neighbour

    You will need to stock and make sure you are energy secure weather South Africa or Mozambique has excess gas reserves

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  10. The dumbest thing a country like Zambia, with hydro and solar potential if done properly, would be to build a fission reactor plant. Anyone, and I read the comments, who says it is safe and “we won’t get a Fukishima” is not a person who actually understands nuclear technology. The problem is WASTE. FUSION reactors, which don’t exist yet in commercial capacity, would be the way to go with NO waste. However…THE FREAKIN’ SUN!!!! I am amazed that Zambia doesn’t put up massive solar farms. The tech is better and better. Wind power, solar power, and hydro power. Don’t become “unnatural” like the Western countries. Be smart, Zambia. You could build a phenomenal renewable infrastructure instead of terrible wasteful Nuclear or GIGANTIC coal (NO such thing as “clean coal”, a big…

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  11. When you do REIPP or IPP there is the Transmission network to expand also and allow feed in and most sites might be remove incase of solar of commercial large scale unless you say concentrated solar panels to turn turbines
    Gas or underground gasification is another though smaller Working on Gas power plants might be effective Sugar bagasse and biogas could be another

    But on a larger scale You will need NUCLEAR AND HYDRO in the energy mix as you up the efficiency and effectiveness of sources

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  12. What you need is an integrated mix to deal with the power needs a national renewable energy strategy , for hydro nuclear and other motorised fuels to deal with the future

    If you can achieve energy security without the need for nuclear then see how your integrated energy outlook looks like and see the long-term

    But in my research and participations for these countries the reserve margin is negative for the future

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  13. If you can do away with nuclear and upscale renewables and create network to avoid waste and spillage of that power at cost effective then as Germany was struggling with excess spillage of renewable power to Poland and Czech then you could be on the way towards energy security otherwise it might prove costly to integrated on a large scale but smaller commercial enterprises might be cost effective

    Anything is possible if human being put mind to it

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  14. and these plants that operate in contained environment are managed according to best standards safely and well You have at least 100 plants nuclear plants in the US and that one powering California Imagine without it and heavy reliance on fossil fuels as primary source of energy

    Thus said weigh the Pros and Cons and make sure you have it right

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  15. Okay when you need baseload power, the current option is nuclear that being driven by COP21 On Financing methods It’s not always on GRZ balance sheet only assurance and projects support may be required and may not be direct GRZ funding unless control is paramount UK has privatised nuclear and involved private There is the Russian Chinese consortium methods of foreign nuclear financing, with ECAs involved You will need to promote corporate balance sheet financing in SPVs as seen in the French Exception model and the Makala model from Finland The common vendor equity or a mix

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  16. ESKOM SAYS IT APPLIED AND IS APPLYING THE MOST CORRECT US METHODOLOGY FOR ITS NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS DEVELOPMENT

    IT CONSIDERS ITS SAFE SEE AND ANY DOUBTS COULD BE CLARIFIED WITH THE SSAC REPORT ISSUED BY Senior Seismic Hazard Analysis Committee ON THE PROJECT

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  17. Name a landlocked country with Nuclear energy???? Lungu will destroy future generations. These investors are greedy and will try produce as much energy to recover costs even at the expense of environmental damage. They are not doing this in best interest of Zambia but profit. This goes for the corrupt who are and have gotten a cut out of this so called deal.

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  18. Regardless of which govt we have ZNBC that has remained stuck in time in 1984 with the worst form of television broadcasting on planet earth as a result of absolutly terrible workmanship right from camera men, continuity managers, technical staff, to even some news readers and tv hosts- how many times has the News started at after 19. 02 hrs??? Zesco with its un announced and haphazard load shedding, Zamtel with its totally useless network and with that kind of hopeless workmanship you think we can handle nuclear power plants?????????? The issue isn’t govt its us Zambians, we are jokers!

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  19. Zambia lucks leaders! The only problem i see in Zambian leaders is that they agree on any proposal of whites. Muzungu akakamba kuti we want this and that in your country to be done within such years vonse ni eeee! Leaders should think before they agree. The thinking i mean here is to consult the state not politicians themselves. Politicians will agree with the aim of chewing money. Leaders do not just accept and agree on certain projects that will cost your country’s economy. I know here in Zambia we are blessed with the recent discovery of uraniam, but we should not just cruez to develop uraniam at an uncounted cost of your life. To leaders out there, dont just accept projects that will affect the future generation. If a parent has poor planning children suffer the consequenses. Ba…

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  20. Corruption is not a logical argument against energy development policy. The same corruption is present in every transaction as long as the parties are corrupt. Or are you arguing that President Lungu is corrupt|? If that is your argument, then submit evidence to ACC.

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  21. NO NO NO to such projects. If power is so difficult to have then lets have no power. The difficult of managing the plant coupled with the danger of the input material exceeds the benefits expected. Bwana Lungu Think over this and involve our own scientists for advice. Even when the opposition is weak, do not literally make such pronouncements.

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