As part of India’s strategy to expand its footprint in Africa, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is exploring supply of small nuclear power reactors to the electricity-starved countries. Interestingly, India’s civilian nuclear power programme has caught the fancy of African countries because climate change has impacted their conventional hydropower generation capacity, which was primarily dependent on the Nile, the Niger, the Congo and the Zambezi river systems.
While hydropower generation has witnessed a decline leading to lower supply of electricity in African nations, India’s pressurized heavy water reactor’s (PHWR’s) unit size are well-suited to meet their small demand load.
The Indian government’s move comes at a time when China has made major forays into Africa since 2004-05. In recent years, China has also tried to co-opt African countries into its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a programme to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects, including railways, ports and power grids, across Asia, Africa and Europe.
New Delhi is opposed to the BRI, which seeks to invest about $8 trillion in infrastructure projects across Asia, Europe and Africa, as it says the initiative lures countries into debt traps, and does not respect sovereignty or address environmental concerns.
India’s strategy is to negate the growing influence of strategic rival China in the region. New Delhi has also extended a $10-billion concessional line of credit (LOC) for the African continent. Of India’s fleet of 22 commercial nuclear power reactors with an installed capacity of 6,780 megawatts (MW), which are run by state-run Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd., or NPCIL, there are 14 units of 220MW PHWRs, making it one of the largest fleets of such reactors.
New Delhi’s support to the freedom movements in many African countries, had earned it considerable political clout in the region, but its popularity started dwindling since the 1990s. However, since the middle of the last decade, India has made efforts to remedy that—reworking its ties with Africa through high-level summits and frequent top-level visits.