Construction of first nuclear power plant to begin in 2027

A nuclear power plant

What you need to know:

  • According to Mr Mayaka, an observation of world trends points to a nuclear renaissance; with African countries like Egypt already on course in nuclear.

Kenya targets to begin the construction of its first nuclear power plant in 2027. This is even as the country seeks to further diversify its energy generation amid rising demand and push for zero-carbon energy.

It is now emerging that the country is ready to fully adopt nuclear applications as it gears up to operationalise its first nuclear power plant by 2035. A site has already been identified along the Coastal belt and feasibility studies are underway.

At the recently concluded COP28, Nuclear Regulatory Authority (KNRA) officials said that with robust regulation, capacity building and borrowing of best practices from partners like the International Atomic Energy Agency and the US Nuclear Energy Commission, Kenya was all set to go nuclear.

KNRA Director for Partnerships and Public Awareness Edward Mayaka noted the commitments given by governments, industry, civil organisations, and other stakeholders, saying contrary to popular opinion, nuclear is a safe bet in environmental protection.

“Nuclear energy offers several advantages in the context of addressing climate change. Unlike fossil fuels, nuclear power plants generate electricity through a process that produces virtually no direct carbon emissions. This characteristic alone makes nuclear energy an attractive option for countries striving to reduce their carbon footprint,” said Mr Mayaka.

Besides KNRA’s regulatory role of protecting lives and the environment from harmful effects of nuclear and radiation, the authority hosts the chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear risk mitigation center at its national laboratory in Oloolua, Kajiado County, serving eastern Africa.

In the past, three nuclear accidents have influenced the discontinuation of nuclear power: the 1979 Three Mile Island partial nuclear meltdown in the United States, the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Russia, and the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

Due to these incidences, several countries have initiated a nuclear power phase-out, citing safety concerns. But in recent times, several countries formerly opposed to opening nuclear programmes or planning phase-outs have reversed course due to climate concerns and energy independence.

As of 2021, Japan planned to restart 30 reactors by 2030. Also, according to research, the impacts of the nuclear shut-downs on the power generation mix have significantly set back emissions reduction goals in these countries.

A recent study of the impacts of the German and Japanese phase-outs concludes that by continuing to operate their nuclear plants, "these two countries could have prevented 28,000 air pollution-induced deaths and 2,400 Metric tonnesof CO2 emissions between 2011 and 2017. 

According to Mr Mayaka, an observation of world trends points to a nuclear renaissance; with African countries like Egypt already on course in nuclear.

“There’s renewed interest in nuclear. We recently launched a postgraduate course in nuclear and radiation safety, which will go a long way in building Kenya’s and Africa’s capacity to go nuclear,” he said.

The KNRA officials urged nuclear skeptics to embrace it, saying nuclear power plants have a cost advantage besides a remarkable track record of reliability and stability. “They provide a steady source of electricity, which can be critical for countries looking to build resilient energy infrastructures capable of withstanding impacts of climate change,” he said.

According to the International Energy Agency, the global renewable energy supply from solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and ocean rose last year by eight per cent, meaning that the share of these technologies in total global energy supply rose by 0.4 per cent points to 5.5 per cent. Most countries, especially in the Global South, rely on hydroelectric power without diversifying electricity sources.

In Kenya, estimates show the country’s total installed energy capacity comprises of 863 MW geothermal, 838 MW of hydro, 436 MW of wind, two MW of biomass, 173 MW of solar, and 678 MW of thermal.