Algeria is the latest country in the Middle East and North Africa to push ahead with early preparations for a nuclear power facility.

The Algerian Commissariat of Atomic Energy (Comena) has started initial talks with Russian state nuclear provider Rosatom about the potential for atomic energy in Algeria. The North African state has set a target for generating its first nuclear power in 2026.

The beginning of the nuclear cooperation talks follow shortly after Rosatom signed a contract to build Egypt’s first nuclear power facility. In 2015, agreements were signed for the first nuclear power plant in Jordan, and the UAE’s first nuclear power plant in Baraka is under construction. Iran has also signed agreements with Russia to expand its maiden Bushehr nuclear facility.

While progress has to date been slow, Saudi Arabia has the most ambitious nuclear plans, with the kingdom planning to implement up to 16 nuclear reactors with a capacity of 19GW.

There are two main reasons why some of the region’s largest utilities are starting to move towards nuclear energy. The first of these is part of plans to diversify their energy sources for power generation. This is becoming more of a priority for governments in light of increasing global and regional economic and political instability.

Energy importers do not want to be reliant on one source of fuel, and exporters want to preserve natural resources for selling on the international market and also for domestic use in higher-value sectors such as petrochemicals, rather than for residential and commercial power production.

The second reason for an increasing interest in atomic energy is to supplement the rapid growth of the region’s renewable energy sector. With more and more utilities pushing ahead with solar and wind projects as a result of their increasing cost competitiveness, there will be a growing requirement for a stable baseload supply of electricity to supplement the peaking solar power. Nuclear power can provide large capacities of baseload power, whilst also reducing carbon emissions.

The major hurdle for states to succeed with nuclear power programmes is the significant capital cost. Nuclear power facilities cost billions of dollars to build, including significant costs of designing and providing suitable storage facilities. Egypt has resolved this with a significant intergovernmental loan from Moscow to cover the capital cost of its first nuclear power plant. Jordan is also hoping to negotiate a similar arrangement to finance the initial cost of its first nuclear power facility. It is likely that many of the planned schemes in the region will include significant financing agreements with the country selected to build the facilities.

If governments are able to secure public approval and financing for nuclear power, it is set to become an increasingly attractive market for the world’s nuclear energy providers.

 

Andrew Roscoe