No, Namibia has not joined the nuclear weapons club. But it has looked favorably on a Russian proposal to build a floating nuclear energy production ship and maintain it off the Namibian coast to supply electricity to the country's power grid via underwater cables. A Russian shipyard that usually turns our nuclear submarines is slated to build a first of its kind floating power plant and would like to export more. According to The Namibian Newspaper:
"Rosenergoatom, Russia's nuclear power agency, said it intends to build up to six such floating nuclear power stations and that the first one will only be ready in 2010....
Sergey Obozov, a senior official at Rosenergoatom, boasted that they would be "as reliable as a Kalashnikov [AK 47] assault rifle, which are a benchmark of safety".
Sergey Kiriyenko, the head of the agency, was also confident.
"There will be no floating Chernobyl," Kiriyenako was quoted by the New Zealand Herald."
According to the Namibian article, in addition to Namibia, China, India, Indonesia and Thailand have expressed interest in these offshore nuclear power plants. It also notes that the Russians also expressed interest in mining and processing Namibian minerals, including diamonds and - surprise - uranium.
Besides the environmental and safety issues one might readily anticipate being raised here, there are some very interesting local and global politics at work in this scheme. China and Russia are actively seeking closer economic ties with Africa and are vying for its natural resources and contracts for large-scale infrastructure projects like hydroelectric dams and power plants. Non-aligned, independent states like Namibia, governed by former resistance movements that were clients of the Soviets and Chinese (e.g. Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, Congo/Brazzaville, etc.) are open to such overtures from their former benefactors. Failed or corrupt states (e.g. Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, etc.) are ripe for unscrupulous deals to extract their resources to benefit outside entities and enrich only a few perfidious elites within the country. Except for petroleum production, the United States is not significantly invested in the economies of Africa and other European and Asian powers (and at a regional level, countries like South Africa) are filling those roles.
Namibia has plentiful uranium and stands to benefit from an increase in nuclear power plant construction worldwide. Rössing Uranium located just 30 miles inland of the port city of Swakopmund, had planned to close this year but now has announced it will remain open until at least 2016, re-hire workers, and open a second mine, with three others in development nearby. The main Rössing mine is the world's largest open pit uranium mine, 1,000 feet deep, 2 miles long and a mile wide. It has already made its first delivery of uranium oxide to China.
The cold Benguela current running along the coast is a readily available cooling source for an offshore floating reactor. Much of Namibia is underpopulated desert but globally significant ecologically. It might be might be tempting for backers of this scheme to use desert land for storing nuclear waste, although I remember reading in the early 1990s that Namibian law forbids the creation of repositories for other countries' nuclear waste. I do not know the current status of such legislation or whether it applied to domestically produced waste as well.
Namibia is twice the size of California with a population of just 2 million. Namibia's Gini Coefficient, an index of the disparity between a country's richest and poorest citizens, represents one of the greatest income gaps in the world. Economic development is a top priority, but we are not talking about a large carbon footprint in this country that nuclear energy would offset. Most of Namibia's domestically generated electricity comes from a hydro power station on the Namibia/Angola border. There has been a proposal on the table for decades to build another dam at Epupa Falls downstream, drowning a cultural and ecological wonder to create more electricity. If an offshore nuclear plant prevented that from happening, would it be worth the risk? And how safe and secure is a floating nuclear plant off the coast of a country that lacks a navy beyond a few light patrol boats and has a hard enough time enforcing fishing regulations in its territorial waters? This will bear watching.