13.02.2018 Author: Dmitry Bokarev

Russian Peaceful Atom is Supporting Peace in Africa


As is well-known, Russia is one of the most popular suppliers of nuclear technologies. The experience and high safety standards of Russian nuclear specialists are recognised throughout the world. Many developing countries in Africa and Asia are declaring an interest in nuclear power and would like to work together with Russia in this field. For some of these countries, nuclear power has the potential to solve major problems.

Compared with other methods of generating electricity, nuclear power is considered to be relatively cheap and environmentally friendly. The development of this sector can help provide a country’s industry and population with the electricity capacity they need, and enable it to save considerable sums of money. Nevertheless, nuclear power has plenty of opponents, who consider that its benefits are outweighed by itsrisks. However, many developing countries facing shortages of natural resources and environmental and economic problems may see nuclear power as the best solution to their most pressing problems. Among them are African nations such as Egypt and Ethiopia.

These hot, drought-prone countries, largely made up of desert, are linked by a great river, the Nile, which provides them with an essential source of water. The sources of this river are in central Africa, and it flows out into the Mediterranean Sea through a number of countries, including Ethiopia (the source of one of the Nile’s two main tributaries, the Blue Nile), Sudan and Egypt. The Nile, together with its tributaries, is of the highest importance for all the countries through which it flows. It enables them to grow crops and generate electricity in hydroelectric power stations. However, even the waters of the Nile are a finite resource, and are frequently the subject of international disputes.

In 2011, Ethiopia began the construction of the Hidase Dam on the Blue Nile, which will be the biggest dam in Africa. If it is completed successfully, Ethiopia may become the master of the Nile. The Hidase Dam may deprive Egypt, downriver from Ethiopia, of much of its water. Egypt’s economy is almost entirely dependent on the Nile. Even now, Egypt is suffering from water shortages, and the Hidase Dam could result in a 25% fall in its water resources.

The dam is expected to be completed by 2019. The project has caused an increase in tensions between Ethiopia and the other countries mentioned above. By the end of 2017 the dispute had reached a serious level and a number of North African nations found themselves in one of two opposing camps. Sudan, situated between Ethiopia and Egypt, frequently suffers from the Nile’s alluvial floods and thus supports Ethiopia’s project. Egypt has the support of Eritrea- a fairly small East African state. In 1993, after a protracted war, Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia and then there was a war between the two countries between 1998 and 2000. Since then relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea have been very strained.

In fact, the dispute about the dam has reawakened all the old disputes in the region, including the territorial dispute between Egypt and Sudan. In the opinion of a number of experts, the possibility of armed conflict cannot be excluded. There are reports that Egypt is sending more troops to the disputed territory and even into Eritrean territory. And Ethiopia is increasing its military presence on its Eastern border with Sudan.

The Ethiopian dam has not yet started working, but Egypt is already, for a number of reasons, suffering from a real shortage of water, and thisis having an effect on its agriculture, hydroelectric power capacity, and even its ability to provide its population with sufficient drinking water. When the dam is finished, the situation may well get much worse.

At the moment it is hard to predict how Egypt, Ethiopia and the other countries involved in this dispute will resolve their differences. One thing is clear, however: nuclear power could help to improve their situation. As already mentioned, water is essential not just for agriculture and to meet the needs of the general population, but also for generating power- another essential for any state. Sometimes it is possible to compensate for a lack of natural resources, including water, by improving industry, using more advanced technologies and generally increasing efficiency. Singapore is a good example of this: even without any land suitable for agriculture, or sufficient sources of fresh water, it has still been able to provide its population with a fairly high standard of living. But, for the development of manufacturing and technology, water is essential.

When Ethiopia completes its dam the Egyptian section of the Nile will see a reduction in flow, and this could cause a significant fall in the generation capacity of the Aswan hydro-electric power plant. That power plant, built by Soviet specialists from 1960 to 1967, once supplied more than half of Egypt’s electricity needs. This proportion has steadily decreased as new hydrocarbon-fuelled power plants have been built.

But hydrocarbons are expensive, and, in the difficult economic conditions that Egypt is experiencing, any unnecessary spending results in real hardship. Given the current situation, nuclear power could provide the Egyptian power sector with much-needed support. Egypt was well aware of this when it signed an agreement with Russia in November 2015, under which Russia will finance and build El Dabaa, Egypt’s first nuclear power station. During the course of the next two years the parties finalized details and in December 2017 they signed a statement on the entry into force of the El Dabaa construction contracts. Preparatory work is already being carried out on the construction site.

Ethiopia, which has started the construction of the Hidase dam with a view to significantly increasing its generation capacity, is also interested in developing a nuclear power sector and building a nuclear power station. Following the example set by Egypt, Turkey, and many other African and Asian countries, it has asked Russia for assistance.

In June 2017, during the Atomexpo 2017 international forum, held in Moscow, Russia and Ethiopia reached agreement on a memorandum of cooperation in the area of civil nuclear power.

A similar agreement was signed by Russia and Sudan during a visit by the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, to Russia in November 2017. Omar al-Bashir said that Sudan was interested in purchasing a small floating power station, and, after that, building its first large nuclear power station.

Naturally, the construction of nuclear power stations in Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia will not solve all those countries’ disagreements with each other. But it will still be a contribution to the development of their energy sectors, and their economies. If a nuclear power station is built in Ethiopia, the electricity it generates may reduce Ethiopia’s use of Nile water for generating power, and it would then not be forced to decrease the flow of water towards Egypt so much. The same could be said for Sudan, which is now also considering a number of hydroelectric power projects which would involve damming the Nile.

Thus the cooperation between North African countries and Russia in the area of civil nuclear power may make it possible to reduce tensions and promote peace in the region.

Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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