US hosts global meet to discuss nuclear safety and advances

A person watches a TV program of a missile launched by North Korea, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, June 29, 2014. [AP Photo]

The US is hosting a global conference seeking to establish nuclear power programmes that adhere to the highest standards of security, safety and non-proliferation.

Countries, including Kenya, are meeting to share experiences in what experts say is a significant leap forward as distinguished scientists, politicians and regulators gather to discuss opportunities and challenges.

The Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) talks in DC kicked off mid-last week up and bear a critical role as a key deliverable from US President Biden's 2021 Leaders' Summit on Climate.

The programme is a multiagency US government initiative designed to provide capacity building support to partner countries in the safe and responsible construction of small modular reactor (SMR) programmes or other advanced reactors.

By participating in the programme, Kenya aims to leverage next-generation nuclear innovations and technologies in its sustainable energy plans, achieve clean and reliable energy goals while contributing to global climate protection efforts, and foster deep relationships through engagements with government bodies, industries, national laboratories, and universities.

“We hope to learn from the rest of the world with a view to achieving unparalleled safety in harnessing nuclear energy. We look forward to positive engagements,” said Kenya Nuclear Regulatory Authority chairman Omondi Anyanga.

The programme is tailored to support countries considering the adoption of SMRs or other advanced reactors to meet their clean energy requirements. These innovative technologies offer numerous benefits, including lower costs, scalability to match grid sizes, flexibility in siting with a small footprint, the ability to integrate with other clean energy sources such as wind and solar power, and a wide range of applications including desalination, industrial processes, district heating, and hydrogen production.

Mr Anyanga, alongside Wilfred Baya, Assistant Director of Energy at the County Government of Kilifi, Collins Juma who’s the CEO of the Nuclear Power and Energy Agency (NuPEA) and KNRA Director General James Keter, are representing Kenya. The talks end on Friday.

The participants’ itinerary includes visits to two out of the seventeen national laboratories in the US, namely the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho and the Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Additionally, the delegation will have the opportunity to explore the North Anna Nuclear Generating Station in Virginia, further expanding their understanding of advanced reactor technologies and their practical applications.

By collaborating with the US, the Kenyan team aims to gain a comprehensive understanding of the foundational infrastructure, regulatory frameworks, safety measures, and technological advancements associated with small modular reactors and advanced nuclear reactors.

Mr Anyanga yesterday told journalists that the insights and knowledge acquired during the tour will be instrumental in formulating a robust roadmap for Kenya's nuclear energy development, ensuring the highest standards of safety.

The team will gain valuable insights into the latest advancements in small modular reactors and advanced nuclear technologies. They will witness firsthand the benefits of these innovative solutions, including lower costs, grid scalability, flexibility in siting, and the potential for synergies with other clean energy sources.

Armed with this knowledge, Kenya hopes to make informed decisions about its energy mix, leveraging nuclear power as a safe, reliable, and sustainable source of clean energy that can contribute significantly to the nation's economic growth and environmental goals.