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What happens to nuclear waste from power plants? via DW

African countries looking to invest in nuclear energy as a source of clean electricity should consider Europe’s struggles with disposing of radioactive waste.

Seventy years after the nuclear age began, no country has built a place to safely store its waste, a report published this week warns, raising concerns for governments mulling nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels.

More than 60,000 tons of highly radioactive waste in the form of spent nuclear fuel rods are stored in interim sites across Europe, according to the World Nuclear Waste Report, some in old facilities that are running out of capacity and are expected to be used for decades longer than planned. Finland is the only country building a permanent repository underground for nuclear waste that emits large amounts of radiation for tens of thousands of years, according to the report published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation — which is affiliated with the German Green party.

“We are talking about time frames that are beyond the human scale of what we can think of,” said Arne Jungjohann, political scientist and lead editor of the report. “We still don’t know where to put the waste safely in a way that nobody will get harmed, that it is not vulnerable to terrorist attacks, that it is not being stolen to build nuclear bombs.”

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Nuclear Power in Africa

Africa’s urban populationis set to double in the next three decades, massively boosting demand for infrastructure and energy. Just half of Africans had access to electricity in 2017, compared to a global average of 88%, World Bank data shows.

Eager to connect citizens with electricity grids, but anxious to avoid high-emissions of Western countries, some governments are exploring nuclear as a way to supply cheap and stable energy.

South Africa is the only country on the continent that currently operates a nuclear plant, but about a dozen others are considering, planning or building them, according to the World Nuclear Association. Several countries — Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia — have signed partnership agreements with Russian nuclear energy company Rosatom, a paper published in the journal Issues in Science and Technology found earlier this year, and others have contracts with China.

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Unsolved nuclear waste is the “defeating argument against entering into the nuclear age,” said Rebecca Harms, a former Member of the European Parliament who was behind the report. “African countries should consider the nuclear legacies which have been created during the last 50, 60 years and for which we have no solutions.”

Demand for energy in Sub-Saharan Africa is set to rise by 60% in the next two decades, but nuclear sources are projected to meet only a small fraction of this, according to the Africa Energy Outlook 2019, a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) published on Thursday.

“What we see in the future economic development of sub-Saharan Africa will be powered by a mix of renewables and natural gas,” said Kieran McNamara, senior energy analyst at the IEA and co-author of the report. “Nuclear just doesn’t feature.”

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