France has joined the list of countries courting Kenya for a multi-billion-dollar deal to build East Africa’s first nuclear power plant.
French Economy and Finance minister Michel Sapin said the nuclear-rich European country was looking to offer Kenya technical, engineering and financial support to develop reactors.
Kenya plans to start building its first nuclear plant from 2022 in a five-year period at a cost of about Sh500 billion.
China, Russia, South Korea and Slovakia have since inked various pacts with Kenya in manpower development and skills exchange as they eye a possible deal.
“We have expressed our readiness to support the construction of the plants. Our support involves everything from expertise to funding,” Mr Sapin said on Sunday after concluding his two-day visit to Kenya during which he presided over the return of Peugeot assembly to Kenya.
Kenya’s first reactor will have a capacity of 1,000 megawatts (MW), which is equivalent to 42 per cent of the country’s current installed electricity capacity.
The Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board (KNEB) plans at least four nuke plants with a total output of 4,000 MW, pushing the total cost to Sh2 trillion.
The nuclear board reckons that despite the heavy upfront costs, nuclear energy is effective in meeting the country’s minimum power demand, technically known as base load.
Kenya has identified possible sites for nukes such as towns bordering Lake Turkana, the Indian Ocean and Lake Victoria whose waters will cool the reactors.
France is a world leader in nuclear energy and boasts third generation reactors known as European pressurised reactors (EPR), whose technology is owned by French giant Areva and has been adopted by China and Finland. The EPR reactors generate more electricity with less nuclear fuel and are better cushioned against accidents.
Mr Sapin said that France was seeking pacts with Nairobi like the ones it entered with South Africa on nuclear power development.
France has over the years signed several pacts with South Africa whose two power plants were built by French firm Areva.
South Africa plans to add more nuclear power plants.
Energy experts from Italy and Germany last October, however, advised Kenya to drop plans to build nuclear reactors and instead harness its vast renewable energy resources for power generation.
The experts, attending a renewable energy conference in Nairobi, reckoned that Kenya is better off developing more geothermal wells, solar parks and wind farms.
They cited massive costs for a nuke plant, long construction periods of about 10 years and expensive decommissioning of plants at the end of their lifespan, especially disposing of hazardous radioactive waste.
Italy shut down its last nuke plant in 1990 and the people voted against the atomic technology in a 2011 referendum. Germany plans to pull nuclear plants off its power grid by 2022 in favour of green energy.