Research reactors promise world of benefits to African nations

October 14, 2020, 3:00PMNuclear News



Africa hosts only seven of the 220 research reactors in operation today, and despite having 17.2 percent of the world’s population the continent contains just 3 percent of the world's nuclear research reactor capacity, say the authors of an opinion piece published online on October 12.

Marguerite Leonardi, senior advisor at NPC Consulting & Engineering, and Professor Vincent Lukanda Mwamba, Commissaire Général of the Commissariat Général à l’Energie Atomique in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), explain why the lack of research reactor capacity is a concern and they urge the restart of a dormant research reactor in Kinshasa, in the DRC.

Important facilities: The facilities permit more than academic research pursuits. The authors explain that “these facilities cover more than just research and development. To effectively benefit from the many peaceful applications of nuclear energy, particularly in health, agriculture, education and general industrial development, research reactors are indispensable.”

Those many benefits include radiological imagery, radiotherapy to fight cancers, sterilization of insects for environmentally friendly pest control, the irradiation of food for better conservation and compliance with export regulations, the use of radioisotope techniques in soil and water conservation strategies, the use of radiation to obtain more resistant crops and better yields, and the production of electricity with a low carbon footprint.

Alarming stats: Africa faces a sizable energy gap, and the authors note that, according to the International Energy Agency, 55 percent of the people in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity and in 13 African countries more than 75 percent of the population do not have access to electricity.

The authors state that “restart of the Mark-II TRIGA research reactor that is currently lying dormant in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is an opportunity that could be leveraged in the near future to begin to remedy this situation, where there are no operating research reactors in central and east Africa, nor in any French speaking Sub-Saharan African country.”

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