This story is part of an ongoing Forum on Energy series on nuclear energy in emerging markets across the globe. See more entries here.
Morocco, the only North African country without significant oil and gas reserves, has traditionally relied on imports to meet its domestic fuel and power needs. In 2011, Morocco imported roughly 93 percent of its energy supplies, importing 7.15 million tons of oil equivalent (MTOE) in crude oil, 7.33 MTOE in oil products, 7.73 MTOE in coal and 0.66 MTOE in natural gas. Domestically, Morocco produced only 0.01 MTOE of oil and 0.05 MTOE of natural gas. After combining production and imports, 93 percent of Morocco’s natural gas, 100 percent of its coal and nearly 11 percent of its oil went toward power generation.
Economic expansion and social development have led to rising energy demand. On average, electricity demand has increased 8 percent per year since 2000. Between 2000 and 2012, electricity consumption increased from 4.4 billion kwH to 25.14 billion khW. By 2020, electricity demand is expected to be twice the current power production capacity of 6,405 MW. By 2030, it is expected to quadruple current capacity. As such, significant additional investments in power production facilities will be needed.
In order to add significant power production capabilities without increasing Morocco’s already comprehensive reliance on imported fuel sources or its contributions to global climate change, the government of Morocco has committed to installing 2,000 MW of wind energy and 2,000 MW of solar energy by 2020. Construction of 4,000 MW of renewables will help to close the gap between expected electricity demand and current supply capacity; the government is also investigating the costs and requirements of constructing a nuclear power plant to provide base load power.
To that end, the national utility, ONEE (Office National de l’Electricité et de l’Eau Potable), in partnership with the IAEA, is undertaking research and analysis of nuclear power on behalf of the government. In January 2010, the Moroccan government announced plans to construct two 1,000 MW nuclear reactors to start operation by 2020. These plans were part of Morocco’s submission to the Copenhagen Accord. So far, ONEE has completed site selection and feasibility studies and selected Sidi Boulbra as the site of Morocco’s first nuclear power plant. In July of 2011, an IAEA expert mission was organized and made recommendations which are under implementation by the ONEE project team. As of 2013, the site studies were being updated in accordance with the new IAEA safety standards.
In preparation for construction of its first nuclear power plant, the Moroccan government has established a network of institutions to examine nuclear energy, assess its safety, deliver the power produced to customers and undertake advanced research.
The National Council of Nuclear Energy (CNEN) is an intra-governmental organization that coordinates among various offices within the Moroccan government. CNEN proposes national policy on nuclear energy use and serves as an advisory board for the Moroccan government.[i]
The National Centre for Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology (CNESTEN) was created in 1986 to serve as the national implementer for all nuclear research and nuclear power production in Morocco. CNESTEN holds a monopoly over nuclear fuel in Morocco and is responsible for all waste collection and disposal. In 1994, CNESTEN created the Maamora Nuclear Research Center (CENM). CENM operates the 2.0 MW Triga research reactor, contributing to the implementation of the national nuclear energy program and promoting nuclear technology in Morocco. CENM also assists the Moroccan government in exercising control over nuclear activities and protecting the public.
The National Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSN) is the Moroccan government’s licensing organization. A group of independent scientific and technical experts, CNSN works with representatives of the government to examine all proposed nuclear technologies and maintains oversight of licensing applications and modification procedures.
Other institutions such as the National Centre for Radiation Protection and the Association of Moroccan Nuclear Engineers provide support to various aspects of the Moroccan government’s oversight program and promote the development of nuclear energy in Morocco.
In May of 1980, Morocco and the United States signed an agreement outlining cooperation concerning peaceful uses for nuclear energy. The agreement, also known as a 123 Agreement, provides for U.S. oversight of the Moroccan nuclear energy programs in exchange for U.S. support for Morocco’s efforts. Morocco is also a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the NPT Additional Protocol. Morocco has also signed on to numerous other nuclear conventions.
In 2007, Morocco signed a partnership agreement with France to develop a nuclear power plant. A further cooperation agreement was signed in mid-2010. Additionally, Morocco has completed a pre-project study, in cooperation with the Chinese, for construction of a 10MW reactor at Tan-Tan. The Tan-Tan reactor will provide power for a desalination plant capable of producing 8,000 cubic meters of potable water per day.
The Moroccan government’s National Office of Hydrocarbons and Mines (ONHYM) has long encouraged exploration for uranium within the country’s territory. Traditionally, French and Russian Geologists have investigated the areas of Haute Moulouya, Wafagga and Sirwa. The IAEA estimates that Morocco’s uranium resources held in phosphate deposits totals roughly 6 million tons. In 2007, Areva signed an agreement with the government of Morocco to investigate recovery of uranium from phosphoric acid. Currently, Morocco is the world’s largest phosphate exporter.
As demand for electricity increases, Morocco must construct significant additional power production facilities and seeks to do so without increasing its carbon footprint or becoming even further reliant on hydrocarbon imports to meet its needs. As such, the government of Morocco has begun to explore the possibility of constructing a nuclear power plant. In preparation for taking that significant step, Morocco has established the necessary institutional framework, constructed a research reactor and begun the process of building the human capital needed for successful nuclear power plant operation. However, Morocco has yet to issue a tender for construction of a nuclear power plant at Sidi Boulbra and will most likely fail to meet its goal of construction of two 1,000 MW nuclear power plants by 2020.