Photograph — The Meaningful Life Centre

Uganda has joined several other African countries working with Russia to harness its nuclear potential. The East African country on Wednesday disclosed an agreement with the European superpower aimed at building the capacity to exploit nuclear technology for energy, medical and other peaceful purposes.

The Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) with Russia is in line with President Yoweri Museveni’s ambition to use the country’s uranium deposits to boost energy production capacity. Uganda’s energy needs are expected to rise in the next few years as it gears up for oil production in 2022.

According to Uganda’s ministry of energy and mineral development, the country has substantial deposits of uranium but reserve estimates are not known because the mineral has not been commercially explored.

Under the agreement, Russia will help Uganda with the development of nuclear infrastructure and production, the application of radioisotopes for industrial, healthcare and agricultural use, as well as the training of personnel, a statement from Uganda’s energy ministry said.

Deputy Director-General of Russian state corporation, Rosatom, Nikolai Spasskiy expressed the “commitment and readiness of Rosatom to support Uganda’s plans to develop the peaceful use of nuclear energy especially in the nuclear power plant development,” the statement added.

With the agreement, Uganda joins a long list of countries in sub-Saharan Africa who have expressed formal interest in developing nuclear power. Across the region, these include Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia, and Rwanda.

Moreover, the trend is a global one, with the demand for nuclear ranging from advanced economies to developing ones. A 2017 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that some 28 member states without nuclear power plants were “considering, planning or starting” nuclear power programmes at the time. While a further 20 countries had expressed an interest in nuclear power.

A major factor behind the push for nuclear development in less-developed countries is the trend towards urbanization. This leads to an ever-increasing demand for electricity, especially energy supplied by base-load plants such as nuclear.

In response to the growing trend, state-owned nuclear companies in Russia and China are at the forefront in offering nuclear power plants to emerging countries, usually with finance and fuel services. Both countries have agreements with Uganda as well.

Kampala first signed a memorandum of understanding with Moscow for this purpose in 2017, ahead of Beijing, which signed a similar agreement in May 2018. The agreement with the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) was to help Uganda build capacity in the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.

The deal with Moscow “lays the foundation for specific cooperation between Russia and Uganda” in the field of nuclear energy, Rosatom said. Both parties also agreed to organize visits by specialists in the “near future.”

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