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Home / Local uranium powers the world  …as Namibia imports 70% of its electricity

Local uranium powers the world  …as Namibia imports 70% of its electricity

2024-04-05  Maihapa Ndjavera

Local uranium powers the world  …as Namibia imports 70% of its electricity

Considering that Namibia is the world’s second-largest uranium producer, it is quite ironic that the country remains confronted with a persistent power supply deficiency which sees it annually importing some 70% of its electricity. 

It is ironic because Namibian uranium has the potential to decarbonise not simply power, but entire economies in a cost-effective and equitable manner. This uranium already provides abundant, affordable, clean electricity to millions of people across the world. 

The question that remains is, when will Namibia use this valuable natural resource to her benefit, particularly to fight the energy deficit, and then expanding to other sectors?

Uranium has various applications in different fields. It can power commercial nuclear reactors which produce electricity, producing isotopes used for medical, industrial and defence purposes, making high-energy X-rays, and being used in agriculture, amongst its numerous uses. 

The amount of uranium Namibia has exported since the 1970s could actually produce more than 100 times the country’s current annual electricity consumption. In fact, the World Nuclear Association (WNA) states that just one small nuclear reactor could produce around 186% of Namibia’s electricity demands, while two reactors would provide 372% of the country’s electricity demands.  

Meanwhile, the Namibian government has articulated a policy position to supply its own electricity from nuclear power.

But so far, there is no evident progress towards this goal.

The Mines and Energy ministry states that the reasons Namibia still does not use its own uranium resources to solve its energy import crisis boils down to economic, technological, regulatory, environmental and financial reasons. This, the ministry added, is coupled with a lack of general demand in the region. 

“Namibia has produced about 160 000 tonnes of uranium since mining began in the country in the 1970s. From 160 000 tonnes of raw uranium (tU), about 6 000-6 500 terawatt hours (TWh) could be produced. That’s more than 100x current annual electricity consumption in Namibia. There is no reason why Namibia couldn’t follow in the footsteps of more than 50 other countries who have developed nuclear energy programmes,” the WNA stated late last year in response to New Era’s queries. 


Uranium earnings

According to the Bank of Namibia’s 2023 annual report released on Tuesday, uranium export earnings rose by 33.2% to N$15 billion during the year under review, supported mainly by higher volumes exported and an exchange rate depreciation. 

On the spot market, the average international price of uranium rose by 25.5% to reach US$62.51 per pound. The rise in the international prices of uranium is associated with the increased global demand for nuclear energy as an alternative to carbon-emitting energy sources.  To tap into this sector, WNA advised the Namibian government to establish the required legal and regulatory framework, including an independent regulator, and to explore and secure financing to accommodate the high upfront costs which characterise nuclear power projects. 

Furthermore, lawmaker Tjekero Tweya said Namibia has the resource, but has no plan to make use of it, and only knows to export uranium. “The excuse has been that we don’t have the skills and technology, but there is no clear plan to address these two deficiencies for us to produce our own energy. Every country started somewhere, but few years later they recorded some improvements. In our existence, we improved our position to produce uranium globally. But it’s difficult to prove the benefit for Namibia, for being the second-biggest uranium producer globally,” said a disappointed Tweya during an international event in Sochi, Russia last week. 

The MP and other government officials attended the Atomexpo-2024, which is an international forum which took place under the theme ‘Clean Energy: Creating the Future Together’. The event was aimed at discussing the role of nuclear power engineering as part of national strategies to combat climate change.


Power plant 

Meanwhile, one of the pioneers of nuclear energy, Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom last month stated that if all goes according to plan, they offered to construct a nuclear power plant in Namibia in the near future.

Viktor Riedel, Rosatom’s country manager, said the nuclear plan for Namibia is not for the short-term, and pending approval, could take up to six years after all consultations with relevant stakeholders to ensure that all parties pull in the same direction.

At the Russian expo last week, Rosatom’s central and southern Africa CEO Ryan Collyer added that the company is working on an exciting project consisting of a floating nuclear power plant. This is expected to be a game-changer in the nuclear industry, particularly for developing nations in Africa, including Namibia.  

Meanwhile, Tweya noted that if there is willpower, there is no reason for nuclear power not to become a reality in Namibia. This is because Rosatom has the technology needed, and Namibia has the natural resource. 

Meanwhile, independent researcher Joseph Sheehama said Namibia lacks the human capital and other inputs as well as energy infrastructure needed to expand its manufacturing and downstream industries. Without these elements, Namibia won’t develop as it ought to due to high input costs, which means foreign companies will demand higher benefits.

“Given Namibia’s projected status as a green hydrogen hub, the nation can develop a win-win strategy with the global community. As a result, green hydrogen has been singled out as a national energy transition strategy. However, since uranium is a significant clean energy source, the discussion should be expanded to include its exploitation. It is important to establish policies that expedite the exploitation of these resources in order to draw in foreign direct investment and generate much-needed jobs in the mining sector,” said Sheehama.

2024-04-05  Maihapa Ndjavera

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