A Nuclear North Africa
Oil and gas remain critical sources of power and energy for North African nations. In the medium term, hydrocarbons will remain the predominant sources of energy, whether it is for the OPEC countries of Algeria and Libya or the less-oil-endowed nations of Tunisia and Morocco. But in the longer term, the nuclear option appears interesting to all as oil reserves are depleted and securing new sources of energy is a strategic priority.
On the ground, all North African nations have been working somewhat to develop nuclear capabilities for civilian and industrial use. Each country has put in place programs that have been supported or endorsed by a Western super power, notably France, which has obvious economic interest in helping develop such industry.
The North Africa Journal Take:
* Despite media noise in the region that relay political views instead of depicting the reality, no single North African nation is contemplating the use of the nuclear option for non-civilian purposes. Various media sources and analysts outside of the region have also been raising red flags but we believe their positions are unfounded and without any base, essentially motivated by political reasons. Neither Morocco, nor Algeria, and certainly neither Libya nor Tunisia have the interest in a nuclear base for military purposes. The current regional security risks are about classic terrorism activity to counter Al Qaeda and its proxies and require a classic approach to defense and enforcement. Intra-Maghreb feuds and political disagreements, including between Morocco and Algeria over the Western Sahara region do no rise to the level of conflicts that may justify a nuclear arsenal.
* North African governments are looking for the post-oil era. And while nuclear is an important option, they are also looking for alternative sources of energy from wind to solar. At the end, all countries will likely adopt a balanced portfolio of energy sources, which would include nuclear as well.
* Nuclear is often referred to as the targeted source of energy that would power tomorrow’s sea water desalination plants in the region. We expect to see the first efficient and large scale nuclear power plants to take shape in about 10 years from now, however, with a remote possibility of truly national entities, that is plants designed, built and operated by North Africa firms to the chagrin of the nationalists and the pro-independence views in the region. Not only the technology is complex, but developed nations are helping their companies control critical aspects of the supply chain in the nuclear sector. That is not likely to change.
* Western companies will continue to dominate the sector, aided by their governments, with a monopoly over the supply of enriched uranium and over the recycling of nuclear waste in the downstream.
* Finally, the level of success of a nuclear North Africa will greatly depend on how successfully the so-called Desertec project is promoted and executed. This project highlights the competitive nature of a nuclear France and a solar Germany, both looking to get the attention of the Southern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries with their own technologies.
* For Western countries, we recommend a pro-active role that would not deny the region access to nuclear capabilities for civilian purposed, while insuring that any transfer of technology is precisely about civilian use. A proactive role means that the region is engaged toward a path of a controlled and transparent buildup, void of secrecy and with the nature of guaranteeing economic growth for the local populations. Such economic growth, through the availability of energy is a necessary move to avoid social and economic disruptions, and then lead to fostering insecurity and terrorism.
* For North African nations, we recommend a multi source approach to energy supply. The region cannot afford dependence on nuclear. It is politically unacceptable. Beside, the vast Sahara desert can also be source of enormous renewable energy. The German approach to solar energy is no doubt worth pursuing. We also recommend that any nuclear program put in place should come with complete transparency so as to avoid a disastrous outcome a-la-Iran.