Iraq to spend billions on nuclear power in next decade
BAGHDAD - Iraq, which suffers chronic electricity shortages, wants to construct eight nuclear power reactors by 2030 in order to reduce its external energy dependence, an official said Tuesday.
The country currently uses electricity and gas imports from neighbouring Iran to generate around a third of its electricity.
“By 2030-2031, we want to produce 25 percent of our electricity needs through nuclear power,” said Kamal Latif, head of the Iraqi Radioactive Sources Regulatory Authority.
Nuclear power “is cheaper and available every day of the year, unlike solar or other renewable energies,” he added.
Latif said that negotiations currently underway with “Russian, Korean, Chinese, American and French” companies could lead to the “signature” of a deal by year-end.
He declined to comment on reports that put the cost of the new reactors at $40 billion, only saying Iraq would negotiate payment facilities “over 20 years, with the possibility of low-interest loans”.
The Russian company Rosatom, quoted by the TASS news agency, said it was discussing with Iraq “the whole agenda of possible cooperation on energy and non-energy applications of nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes”.
Experts believe that rather than going nuclear, Iraq should instead renovate its infrastructure, as it loses up to half of all electricity generated during its distribution and transmission due to outdated circuits.
Severe power cuts and rolling blackouts are now the norm in the country. A power generation and distribution system still recovering from the impact on its infrastructure of the 2003 US-led invasion and subsequent violence, was hit again between 2014 and 2018 by Islamic State terrorists. Billions of dollars in further damage was inflicted on around a fifth of the already-dilapidated electricity infrastructure, causing a loss of seven gigawatts in generation and transmission capacity.
Iraq currently produces some 18.4 gigawatts of power, 1.2 gigawatts of which come from Iran. With additional capacity, during the summer output could rise to 22 gigawatts but that is far short of the normal demand of around 30 gigawatts.
“Power shortages have inflamed public anger, sparking mass protests across southern Iraq, particularly in the Basra province” said the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs in a study produced early last year. “With high unemployment, perception of widespread corruption and poor access to public services, the provision of electricity has become a lightning rod for people’s discontent towards their country’s inept governance”.
Iraq, the second largest producer in the OPEC oil cartel, has already announced a multi-year plan to capture natural gas that it currently flares off at well heads, at an estimated loss of $2.5 billion a year, according to the World Bank.
In order to upgrade its energy infrastructure, Iraq has signed memorandums of understanding with Germany’s Siemens and the US’s General Electric, but no projects have yet got under way.