Kampala. The government has selected Buyende, Nakasongola, Mubende, Lamwo and Kiruhura districts as the potential sites for Uganda’s nuclear power stations.
State minister for Energy Simon D’Ujanga attributes the selection of these districts to the presence of water bodies nearby.
Buyende in eastern Uganda and Nakasongala in central Uganda are bordered by Lake Kyoga to their North.
On the other hand, Mubende is bordered to its South East by Lake Wamala.
“The most important thing is you must have plenty of water,” Mr D’Ujanga, an engineer, told this newspaper. “A nuclear power station needs water to get steam to generate electricity.”
It is the steam that turns the turbines to create an electric current, a current that is then tapped and wheeled to the transmission lines, electrical substations and distribution lines to premises.
D’Ujanga said besides water, the areas where the nuclear power plant will be put up “should not be built up”.
That is, they should not be heavily settled.
Lamwo, whose area is 5, 596 square kilometres (sq. km2), has a population of 134, 379 – according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (2016), while Nakasongola’s is 181, 799 spread across 3, 738sq. km2.
The exact areas in the five districts where the plants will be built is still being kept secret to throw speculators off the scent.
Speculators are wont rush to buy tracks on land in areas where the government plans to build infrastructure projects. They thereafter sell the land to the government at higher prices.
Regarding the nuclear energy plants, according to the Summary of Nuclear Generation Plan from an AF-Consult Switzerland Limited report, the high case scenario would involve the setting up of a two-unit nuclear power plant of an installed capacity of 2, 300 megawatts (MW).
In this scenario, the plant would be commissioned in 2028.
The base case scenario would involve putting up two units with an installed capacity of 2, 000MW and the first unit of these two would be commissioned in 2031.
The low case scenario would involve the setting up of a one-unit, 1, 000MW nuclear power station, and commissioned in 2034.
The summary said the capital expenditure for Uganda’s nuclear power programme 2020–2040 would be $9.8 billion (Shs37.2 trillion – going by today’s Bank of Uganda rates) for the base case scenario.
For the low case scenario, the capital expenditure would be $4.9 billion (Shs18.6 trillion).
Asked how the government will finance the plants, Mr D’Ujanga responded, “I can’t say that now because [that will be] ten years [from now].”
By the time we went to press, we were yet to get hold of the minister of Finance, Mr Matia Kasaija.
It is probable the government will use proceeds from crude oil exports.
Though Uganda is yet to start crude oil exports, Uganda will to start production once a refinery is up and running.
The government projects that a refinery will be up and running within the next six years.
In 2014, Tullow Uganda Operation Pty Limited’s general Manager, Jimmy Mugerwa, who was presenting a paper during the Institute of Certified Public Accounts annual seminar, said Uganda would earn $3.6 billion (Shs13.6 trillion today) annually from her oil and gas.
This newspaper reported then that Mr Mugerwa said it would take 25 years to deplete Uganda’s oil.
At the time (2014), a barrel of oil cost $112, according to the US’s Energy Information Administration. Today crude costs $74.29.
The prices could fall or rise, depending on various factors.
It is from her crude that Uganda could pay for the nuclear power stations.
Through a May 17, 2018 article titled ‘Why nuclear power for African countries does not make sense’, which appeared in the Mail & Guardian of South Africa, Harmut Winkler, a Professor of Physics at the University of Johannesburg, argued against nuclear power plants for African countries.
He said nuclear plants are comparatively more expensive than solar or wind technologies. He said the interest on loans to build nuclear plants, possible cost overruns, operations and maintenance and decommissioning costs are like to “amount to more than double this initial outlay”
Prof. Winkler argued that nuclear power agreements are shrouded in secrecy.
Additionally, he pointed out that countries like Germany, Belgium and the US are downscaling their nuclear plans or exiting it altogether.
“The reasons include perceptions about increased risk following the Fukushima disaster in Japan…” he said.
This newspaper asked the chief executive officer of Uganda’s Atomic Energy Council, Deogratias Noah Luwalira, about the safety concerns surrounding nuclear power plants.
Mr Luwalira said it is not absolutely true that nuclear power plants are unsafe.
He said where all the safety measures are in place, nuclear power plants are safe.
One of the measures, Mr Luwalira said, is having in place an independent and competent regulatory body, and the body should have the required human resource.
The body should be able to make decisions independent of external interference.
There should be a legal/regulatory framework to guide operations in the nuclear power subsector.
The operator of the plant must be competent.
Mr Luwalira added that a country must meet international requirements for the establishment of a nuclear power station.
“Once all these measures are in place, a nuclear power station should be safe. If there is a compromise, the risk of it not being safe increases,” Mr Luwalira said on Friday, September 14.
“The most important is having a regulatory authority. If we are to rank, starting with the most important, having a regulatory authority comes first.”
This authority must have the financial resources it requires and the infrastructure/facilities to enable it operate well.
The council, he said, is presently developing its human resource whereas government is strengthening the regulatory framework.
And there is reason to start early.
Mr Luwalira said it takes, on average, between ten to fifteen years to have a nuclear power station up and running.
Luwalira said one of the reasons why it takes long is that it is an expensive venture.
However, even where the resources are available, Mr Luwalira said it takes time to train the human resource.
The training, he says, could take between four to five years.
“[Once] you conceive the idea,” he added, “you have to start [putting in place the measures] so that by the tenth year everything is in place and the power plant can be established.”
According to Vision 2040, government plans to invest massively in the development of human resources in the nuclear sector.
It will also invest in other necessary infrastructure to support early development and use of nuclear power to generate electricity.
“To reduce the energy deficit, emphasis will be put on the development of nuclear power preferably from the available uranium in the country,” the report stated.
It is the splitting of uranium through fission, plenty of water is boiled, producing steam that turns the turbines to generate electricity. Water is also used to cool the steam.
Uganda’s current installed power generation capacity is 930.5MW, according to a June 2018 paper by Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL).
Karuma and Isimba hydropower plants, which will be commissioned next year, will increase Uganda’s installed generation capacity by 783MW.
The Project for Master Plan Study on Hydropower Development in the Republic of Uganda Final Report, shows after Karuma HPP, the large hydropower project sites left will be Oriang, Ayago, Kiba and Murchision.
Besides the large hydropower project sites, Uganda’s potential from solar is 200MW, 450MW from geothermal, 1, 650MW from biomass and 800MW from peat.
Official estimates put suppressed demand for power is growing by 10 per cent annually. With the government working hard to connect more premises to the grid and have many industries in Uganda to process her raw materials, consumption is bound to increase.
Therefore, once the solar, mini-hydro, biomass, geothermal sources are fully tapped and consumed, there would be a deficit.
With that at the back of the minds of policymakers at the Energy ministry, there is need for a nuclear power plant even though critics argue Uganda can do without such plant or plants.
To critics, D’Ujanga said, “Then they [should] tell me where else to get power. Uganda having a nuclear power station is a must because we [will soon be] exhausting the large hydropower project sites on River Nile.”
The government wants to transform Uganda from a peasant to industrial economy within the next 22 years.
That will require, among other things, that she increases her power generation capacity and the consumption.
It is believed that abundant, and cheap power, will prompt investors to build more factories in Uganda.
It is probable that President Museveni is calculating that he could guarantee his legitimacy by taking on the role of an agent of Uganda’s industrialisation.
Besides adequate and reliable supply of power, his National Resistance Movement government would have to ensure Uganda has adequate supply of skilled labour that will be required by the industries such as the one he launched in Ntinda, Kampala last month.
His government will also have to ensure there is the infrastructure and services to support the specialised industries.