Uganda has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. Between the rumoured power struggle between President Museveni and his son General Muhoozi Kainerugaba on the one hand, the closing down of the United Nations Human Rights Office in Uganda, and the draconian legislation that bans in no uncertain terms the acts of homosexuality and identification of any form to LGBTQ+, attracting severe punishment, Uganda’s positioning itself as nuclear energy powered has largely gone under the radar.

Uganda has gotten one step closer to realising its Vision 2040 recently announcing in early March 2023 that it is ready to commence the construction of a 2000 MW nuclear power plant north of the Kampala. The construction of the nuclear power plant will be done in collaboration with China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). While Kenya has also expressed intentions to generate nuclear power energy as well as Rwanda, 2 countries within the East Africa community, they lag behind since they are yet to conclude on discussions and authorisations by the International Atomic Energy Authority and Kenya is yet to identify and acquire the land that will host the nuclear power plant. Tanzania also plans to utilize a subsidy from Russian State Energy Corporation, Rosatom to build a research reactor and develop commercial nuclear power by 2025, following the discovery of uranium deposits in 2018. 

Uganda’s Vision 2040 is a long-term development plan aimed at transforming Uganda into a modern and prosperous country by the year 2040. The was launched in 2013 and the key objectives, among others, is to create a transformed competitive and prosperous economy that involves industrialisation, supporting private sector development and increasing investment in infrastructure. Another key objective is to preserve and sustainably manage the environment and mitigate the effects of climate change. The building of the 2000 MW nuclear plant meets these two objectives.

The construction of a nuclear power plant in Uganda could potentially help meet some of the objectives of Uganda Vision 2040, particularly in the area of creating a transformed, competitive and prosperous economy. A few ways in which a nuclear power plant could contribute to the realization of Uganda Vision 2040 are outlined here:

  • Increased access to affordable and reliable energy: The construction of a nuclear power plant would increase the country’s energy generation capacity, which would help to address the power deficit that currently exists in Uganda. This would, in turn, help to attract more investment, particularly in industries that require a lot of energy, such as manufacturing.
  • Job creation: The construction of a nuclear power plant would create jobs for Ugandans, particularly in the areas of engineering, construction, and operations. This would help to reduce unemployment and contribute to the country’s overall economic growth.
  • Promoting industrialization: A reliable and affordable energy supply would be a major boost to Uganda’s industrialization agenda. This would help to promote the growth of industries that are crucial for the country’s economic development, such as manufacturing, which would contribute to the creation of more jobs.
  • Diversification of energy sources: Currently, Uganda relies heavily on hydroelectric power for its energy needs. The construction of a nuclear power plant would help to diversify the country’s energy mix, reducing its reliance on a single source of energy, which would help to ensure a more reliable and stable energy supply.

However, it is important to note that the construction of a nuclear power plant also comes with potential risks and challenges, particularly in terms of safety, security and environmental impacts. These risks and challenges would need to be carefully managed and mitigated in order to ensure that the benefits of nuclear power are realized while minimizing the potential negative impacts.

In order to meet these challenges, Uganda will need to amend its Atomic Energy Act, 2008 so as to strengthen the legal and regulatory regime for nuclear safety, security, safeguards for nuclear material, civil nuclear liability and maintaining nuclear institutional framework.

Important legislations that would need to be either developed or amended for improvement are:

  • A clear regulatory and financial framework for the development of the nuclear power project in Uganda since without this investors are wary of the risks involved, such as delays in construction or volatile electricity demand.
  • Legislations related to environmental protection: the existing legislations for environmental protection and management would need to include provisions that mitigate the potential environmental impacts of a nuclear power plan. It would establish procedures for assessment and management of environmental risks associated with the plant, including the management of radioactive waste.
  • Law specific to Liability and Compensation: establishing a liability and compensation regime for nuclear damage caused by a nuclear power plant is essential given the risks involved. Ensuring adequate financial resources are available to compensate victims of nuclear accidents, and provide for the allocation of responsibility among the relevant parties in case of a nuclear incident is essential
  • Legislation specific to Radiation Protection: this legislation provides the protection of people and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation and establishes the safey standards, licensing procedures for the use of radiation source and the requirements for the safe handling, transport, and storage of radioactive materials.

The development of a nuclear power plant in Uganda could have significant implications for trade and investment in the East African region namely increased energy security. If the nuclear power plant is developed, Uganda would have a reliable and constant source of electricity, which could improve the country’s energy security. This could also encourage other countries in the region to invest in nuclear power, which could create new opportunities for trade and investment.

Furthermore, the development of a nuclear power plant in Uganda could contribute to the integration of the East African region. With a more reliable source of electricity, Uganda could potentially export excess energy to neighboring countries, which could enhance economic cooperation and lead to increased trade and investment.

The development of a nuclear power plant could improve Uganda’s investment climate by signaling to investors that the country is committed to developing its energy sector and is open to new technologies. This could potentially attract more foreign direct investment to the country, which could have positive spillover effects for the entire region.

Furthermore, the construction and operation of a nuclear power plant requires highly skilled labor, which could create new job opportunities and increase demand for skilled workers in the region. This could lead to greater investment in education and training programs, which could have long-term benefits for the region.

The development of a nuclear power plant also raises environmental concerns, as nuclear energy can produce radioactive waste. This could potentially lead to opposition from local communities and environmental groups, which could affect the perception of the investment climate in the region.

The next few years in Uganda from an investment climate perspective should be watched attentively. Uganda has a lot of work ahead to ensure that the adequate regulatory frameworks are in place to support nuclear energy in Uganda, but should Uganda get it right, it could propel the investment opportunities significantly and change the lives of Ugandans.

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