Burkina Faso’s junta-led government signed a deal with Russia on Friday for the construction of a nuclear power plant to increase the energy supply to the Sahel country where less than a quarter of the population has access to electricity. It is the latest move by Burkina’s military rulers to strengthen ties with Moscow, as the country looks to diversify its international allies following a coup last year.Russia has in recent months discussed greater military cooperation with Burkina Faso, as well as pledging deliveries of free grain to one of the world’s poorest countries.”The government of Burkina Faso has signed a memorandum of understanding for the construction of a nuclear power plant,” it said in a statement. “The construction of this nuclear power plant in Burkina Faso is intended to cover the energy needs of the population,” it added.The agreement was signed at the Russian Energy Week in Moscow, which was attended by Burkina Faso’s energy minister Simon-Pierre Boussim and Nikolay Spassky, the deputy director general of Russia’s state atomic energy agency, Rosatom.The document “fulfils the wish of the president of (Burkina) Faso, Captain Ibrahim Traore, expressed last July at the Russia-Africa summit during a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin,” the statement said.Rosatom said in a statement that “the memorandum is the first document in the field of the peaceful use of atomic energy between Russia and Burkina Faso.”It said the agreement laid the foundations for cooperation in areas including the use of nuclear energy in industry, agriculture and medicine.Just under 23 percent of Burkina Faso’s population had access to electricity at the end of 2020, according to the African Development Bank.- Double production -“We plan, if we can, to build nuclear power plants by 2030, in order to solve the problem of the energy deficit,” Russia’s TASS news agency quoted Boussim as saying on Thursday.”Our challenge is to double our electricity production by 2030, which will allow us to boost the industrialisation of Africa,” he added.Burkina Faso imports a large part of its electricity from neighbouring Ivory Coast and Ghana, while producing some of it locally, mainly through hydroelectric or solar power. The only nuclear power plant on the African continent is near Cape Town in South Africa.Iyabo Usman, a South African nuclear structure researcher, said that Burkina Faso “doesn’t have enough qualified personnel to run this power plant”, adding that “they will have to call on international personnel”.”They could benefit from the support of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)”, particularly financially, as the country is a member state of the organisation, she added.”There’s a competition between China and Russia on the continent” in terms of nuclear power plant investment, Usman, from Johannesburg’s University of Witwatersrand, said.Burkina Faso last year experienced two military coups — both triggered in part by discontent at failures to stem a raging jihadist insurgency. More than 17,000 people have died in attacks since 2015, more than 6,000 just since the start of this year, according to a count by an NGO monitor called the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED).More than two million people have fled their homes.Coups in Mali and Burkina Faso were followed by a putsch in July in neighbouring Niger, which is also bearing the brunt of a jihadist offensive.The turmoil has put France, the region’s former colonial power and traditional ally, on the back foot, forcing it to pull its troops out of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.