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Kenya revs up nuclear power plant plan with new US deal

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 An overview of the site of the Doel Nuclear power plant from the banks of the Scheldt. [iStockphoto]

Kenya is set to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States (US) in a new initiative that seeks to improve energy security cooperation between Nairobi and Washington.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) concerning Strategic Civil Nuclear Cooperation focuses on nuclear energy security and its civilian uses, the White House says in a brief seen by The Standard.

The US-Kenya framework cooperation agreement will set out how the two countries will cooperate on peaceful uses of nuclear science such as in medical, agricultural, and energy fields, among others.

"Signing Nuclear Cooperation MoU with Kenya to signal that both parties seek to further our civil nuclear cooperation, and announcing new joint work on civil nuclear studies," says the White House in the brief on the proposed deal.

The new deal will be signed on the sidelines of the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington DC where President William Ruto is leading a Kenya government delegation.

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The pact was made public by the White House yesterday and will see the Joe Biden administration now join the list of countries courting Kenya for the mouthwatering multi-billion-dollar deal to build a nuclear power plant in Kenya.

Kenya earlier planned to build a $5 billion (Sh658 billion) nuclear power plant on a site in Tana River County over the next decade with funding from private investors.

Russia, China, South Korea, and Slovakia have all signed pacts with Nairobi in the recent past that will see them assist Kenya in building capacity to set up its first nuclear plant.

According to the US State Department, Nuclear Cooperation MoUs are diplomatic mechanisms that strengthen and expand strategic ties between the US and a partner country by providing a framework for cooperation and a mutually aligned approach to "nonproliferation on civil nuclear issues and for engagement between experts from government, industry, national laboratories, and academic institutions."

The deal will also see the US launch new civil nuclear studies with Kenya.

Kenya has been weighing the financial and commercial impact of its nuclear ambitions.

A task force appointed by former President Uhuru Kenyatta to look into the country's power purchase agreements recommended the dropping of the Nuclear Power and Energy Agency (Nupea).

The John Ngumi-led team argued that it was unlikely that Kenya would go into nuclear power production any time soon.

Nupea was established over a decade ago in anticipation of an economic boom from increased electricity demand both for manufacturing and households.

The formation of the agency was initiated when the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) recommended to the late former President Mwai Kibaki's administration the adoption of nuclear power to meet the country's growing electricity demand.

Russia's State-run nuclear energy agency, Rosatom, and Chinese firms have been courting Kenya for the supply of nuclear technology.

Moscow has been pushing to help Kenya and other African countries reach their nuclear energy ambitions.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni this year requested Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to help the country build East Africa's first nuclear power plant.

Earlier in May, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gave Uganda the green light to start building and production of nuclear power.

Rwanda also signed a deal with Moscow's Rosatom to build a centre of nuclear science and technologies in October 2019.

The Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board (KNEB) in a regulatory filing with the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) earlier said Kenya's proposed nuclear plant with an initial capacity of 1,000 megawatts (Mw) would be constructed through a concessionaire.

The government aimed to expand the plant's capacity fourfold by 2035 under a build, operate and transfer (BOT) model.

Kenya views nuclear power both as a long-term solution to high fuel costs - incurred during times of drought when diesel generators are used - and an effective way to cut carbon emissions from the power generating sector.

KNEB said private funding for the nuclear plant would ease the burden on Kenya's strained public coffers.

The estimated cost of the nuclear plant is nearly half the government's annual tax collections.

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