Since 2006 Algeria has shown growing interest in using nuclear power as an alternative means of generating energy, and recent power shortages have provided the impetus plans to realise this. “We plan to generate 13% of electricity from nuclear energy by the year 2050,” Youcef Yousfi, minister of energy and mines, told OBG.

NUCLEAR INSTALLATIONS: Currently Algeria does not have a nuclear power plant, but it does operate several nuclear installations. These include the Nur reactor, which is an open-pool-type research reactor with a capacity of 1 MW. This light-water-cooled reactor began operations in 1989 and is devoted to training and research. Es-Salem is a 15-MW, heavy-water-moderated, tank-type reactor, and is used for testing materials, producing radioisotopes and reactor operator training. A nuclear fuel fabrication unit, which began operations in 1999, is aimed at developing fuel rods and plate-type nuclear fuel.

The country’s drive to generate nuclear energy dates back to the 1970s, when efforts to establish training programmes for nuclear engineers first began. Algeria has also explored prospects for sourcing uranium locally. Several feasibility studies for nuclear power plants were conducted into the mid-1980s in partnership with, among others, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Sofratome of France. However, a decade of progress was followed by a slowdown in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster and a period of more strained economic circumstances. Since 2006, demand for electricity in Algeria has increased, prompting discussions regarding nuclear energy to resurface.

OFFICIAL BODIES: Two governmental organisations, the Algerian Atomic Energy Commission ( Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique, COMENA) and the Directorate of Nuclear Energy (Direction de l’Energie Nucléaire, DEN), oversee the country’s nuclear activities. COMENA is the principal governmental agency in charge of implementing the national nuclear policy. It also promotes and develops nuclear power generation techniques, and develops skills and infrastructure in nuclear fuel and technology for facilities. COMENA operates four research centres where it develops nuclear technologies to be applied to energy, health, industry and agriculture. DEN was established in September 2007 with the cooperation of the General Directorate of Energy and the Ministry of Energy and Mines, and is tasked with defining national nuclear energy policy and its anticipated contribution to domestic electricity production.

The directorate also establishes procedures for nuclear applications; develops security and safety procedures; and coordinates and follows up on any ongoing cooperation in the field of nuclear energy.

Algeria prides itself on maintaining close cooperation with the IAEA, and has ratified seven conventions and treaties with regard to non-proliferation of nuclear technology, as well as following numerous international measures to uphold nuclear safety. China is Algeria’s traditional nuclear energy partner, and the country has signed additional nuclear cooperation agreements with France, South Africa, the US and Russia, among others.

FUTURE PROSPECTS: While Algeria considers nuclear power to be a sustainable source of energy, the disaster in Fukushima in March 2011 led many countries to reconsider its use. Algeria has also engaged in a debate on the safety of nuclear energy, but the government appears to have concluded that it is a manageable risk.

Studies have been launched with the aim of exploring its potential, including energy planning, plant sites, desalination and the mining of uranium.

The National Nuclear Policy aims at producing 1200 MW by 2022 and 2400 MW by 2027 solely through nuclear energy. Algeria has conducted preliminary studies and has indicated that it is planning to start operations on its first nuclear power plant by year-end 2022, with a power generation capacity of 1000-1200 MW. A second plant should follow, slated for completion between 2027 and 2030.

According to COMENA projections made in January 2012, from 2030-50 Algeria will use nuclear energy as the baseload to generate electricity for the country.