China eyes Africa nuclear power plant

2011-05-25 10:26

Beijing  - China wants to help build nuclear power generation in East Africa, uranium mining and investment company IBI Corp said after meeting Chinese officials in Beijing, revealing China's undimmed appetite for overseas nuclear expansion despite the Japanese nuclear crisis this year.

IBI, which has uranium-prospective land in Uganda, said its director AJ Coffman held an "encouraging meeting... with the relatively new umbrella organisation overseeing China's research and development of Generation 3 and Generation 4 nuclear power plant designs".

It said: "At the meeting, this entity expressed an interest in pursuing nuclear power plant construction in East Africa."

China is in the early stages of a massive nuclear power expansion to help meet the demands of its power-guzzling economy, and to weaken the grip of coal as the dominant source of fuel.

Japan's earthquake and tsunami on March 11 and the ensuing nuclear crisis have threatened to put cracks in China's own plans, with the government ordering a halt to further nuclear approvals until it had inspected the existing reactors and construction sites.

China's ambitious domestic nuclear expansion is widely expected to march ahead, although talk of the sector growing to 80 to 90 gigawatts by 2020 may give way to a target of 70 to 75 GW. Still, that is a giant leap from China's existing nuclear capacity, which amounted to 10.8 GW at the end of 2010.

Some of China's new plants will use "third generation" reactors with technology from France's Areva and US-based Westinghouse, part of Toshiba Corp. But later their technology will be transferred to China, enabling it to build third generation plants in its own right.

Currently there are no nuclear plants in East Africa, and only South Africa has nuclear power.

China already has some early-stage interests in uranium in Africa. The overseas arm of China National Nuclear Corphas has a 37.2% stake in a uranium mine in Niger that began producing on December 30, 2010, as well as exploration projects in Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Another state-owned company, China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corp , earlier this month withdrew a bid for UK-listed Kalahari Minerals. The company holds 43% of Extract Resources, owner of Namibia's Husab project, potentially the world's second-biggest uranium mine.

The Chinese firm, which withdrew its $1.2bn bid after regulators refused to let it cut its offer in the aftermath of the Japanese nuclear disaster, is considering whether to come back with a fresh bid.