The expansion of cooperation between Russia and African countries over the past few years involves not only the implementation of joint projects in the economic sphere but also several large-scale social and humanitarian initiatives. Rosatom State Corporation, one of Russia’s main ambassadors in Africa, has already presented unique opportunities of nuclear technologies outside power industry - in medicine, agriculture, scientific research and the environmental sphere - to its partners in South Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia and other countries. One of the most notable initiatives that have already been implemented on a practical level is the project to preserve the rhino population in South Africa using radioactive isotopes, which can be scaled up to other regions of Africa in the future.
Over 500 agreements signed between Russian and African companies worth about 800 billion rubles (more than $10 billion) - this was the main outcome of the first Russia – Africa summit held in Sochi in the fall of 2019. The Association for Economic Cooperation with African Countries, established as a result of the event, took on the task of systematically promoting Russian business on the continent, where they have never forgotten about the invaluable assistance that the Soviet Union used to provide to young states. Now the partnership between Russia and Africa is reaching a new level.
Africa is a continent of rich natural resources, including uranium deposits, which the Russian nuclear state corporation Rosatom has long shown an interest in developing. However, Russian nuclear industry of today is able to offer Africa not only the extraction of raw materials and nuclear power plant construction projects. Rosatom’s long-term partnership with African countries includes a series of humanitarian and social projects for the local population aimed at achieving sustainable development goals on the continent, which is particularly exposed to global risks, such as climate change and environmental degradation.
Nuclear Technologies on Guard for Biodiversity
In May this year, an international innovative project for the conservation of the rhino population, called Rhisotope (rhino + isotope), was launched in South Africa. The research group includes representatives of South Africa (WITS University), Australia (ANSTO), the USA (Colorado State University) and Russia represented by Rosatom, Tomsk Polytechnic University and the Scientific and Technical Center “Nuclear Physics Research”.
The authors of the project have an ambitious task in front of them - to develop and implement a method that will end the poaching of rhinos, which can lead to the complete extinction of these animals in the coming years. Various measures to protect them that were taken earlier did not prove to be successful – the extermination of rhinos continues, since their horn remains an extremely popular commodity on the black market.
Nuclear science offers an effective solution to the problem. If a safe portion of a nuclear isotope is injected into a rhino horn, it will make it possible to detect malefactors, who are trying to take the horn outside of South Africa, using radiation detection devices at border control.
To date, according to Rosatom specialists, the research part of the project is underway. Researchers are observing two rhinos that received an injection of non-radioactive isotopes C-13 (carbon) and N-15 (nitrogen), and if the tests confirm that the substance does not move inside the rhino’s body and does not harm it, radioactive materials will be used at the next stage of the experiment. Rosatom plans to act as their supplier at the final stage.
The Rhisotope project clearly demonstrates the extremely wide possibilities of using nuclear technologies. After the successful completion of the research, the know-how can be used in other countries of Africa and beyond for the protection of other endangered animal species. According to the press relations service of Rosatom, the intellectual property, as well as training programs, will be provided to interested environmental organizations free of charge.
A ten-year-old Partnership
Tanzania, where similar technologies can help preserve the elephant population, is one of those countries where the results of the Rhisotope project can be scaled in the foreseeable future.
This year marks ten years since Rosatom started working in this country by acquiring a license to develop the Mkuju River uranium deposit. This project was later postponed due to low world prices for uranium, but this did not prevent Rosatom from implementing a large social investment program in Tanzania.
Back in 2013 the corporation began to provide assistance to the Selous Game Reserve (now Nyerere National Park, formerly the northern part of Selous Game Reserve) in the fight against poaching, as the problem has acquired threatening proportions. For the previous four years, the number of elephants had decreased by two-thirds due to illegal hunting – to just 13 thousand animals.
As part of the cooperation program with the Government of Tanzania, the Russian company recruited a group of rangers to patrol an area of 20 thousand square kilometers, provided them with training, equipment and technical supplies, including thermal imagers and drones.
Through Mantra anti-poaching project four patrol teams were equipped with allowances, good field gears like vehicles, GPS, tents and power generator for the headquarter, says Lembolos Ngengeya, conservation ranger from Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority (TAWA). This helped to keep rangers more motivated for protecting endangered animals like African elephant, African wild dog and black rhinos. Ultimately, rangers’ activities are aimed at conservation the Nyerere National park ecosystem, its habitats, biodiversity, migrations of large mammals and birds.
“After we’ve managed to arrest a good number of poachers in the Nyerere this scared away other illegal hunters and enabled us to have zero poaching in that area patrolled by Mantra antipoaching teams from 2017 to date. I think this was a great achievement. The more we patrol, the more the endangered species are safe to reproduce again and increase in their natural environment”, says Ngengeya.
In addition, Mantra supported and provided a refreshing short training to the rangers to build stamina, bush combat techniques and first aid skills. This was very important for the efficiency of the rangers and their safety while on patrols.
The scopes of the projects are likely to be extended beyond the initial area. Increasing the number of patrols teams from four teams to seven will allow covering a much bigger territory, according to Ngengeya. Elephants and wild dog are migratory species, which means they keep moving from one location to another, he explains.
So in order to be able to protect them effectively and have close monitoring of their whereabouts there is a need in additional rangers and inclusion of the locals who have information on poachers. “We should work closely with local informers who will collect and provide us some info on poachers so we can arrest them before they get into the reserve or before killing an elephant”, TAWA ranger argues.
During the two years of the project the elephant population in the Nyerere Park increased by two thousand individuals. In 2015, the subsidiary of Rosatom in Tanzania was awarded the Presidential Corporate Social Responsibility and Empowerment award in the nomination “The best company engaged in the exploration of mineral deposits”.
Tanzania is also taking part in such an aspect of Rosatom’s activities as the training of qualified personnel for African countries. In Tanzania itself, a number of schools were funded to purchase equipment - equipping school laboratories instead of ordinary desks.
Since 2013, Rosatom has been providing young people from Africa with the opportunity to study in Russia for free under engineering scholarship programs. At the moment several students from Tanzania are being trained in Russian universities in areas related to the nuclear industry. Last year schoolchildren and students from Tanzania also found out about the opportunities for obtaining education in the major universities of the Rosatom State Corporation within the framework of a series of lectures organized by the embassy of the African country in Moscow. And this year, Rosatom, together with the leading Russian universities, held a series of online lectures for Tanzania on the current capabilities of nuclear technologies.