Plan to set up nuclear research facility at Konza City kicks off

Nupea Director-General John Wabuyabo. July 6, 2023. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Kenya has started the journey to build a nuclear research reactor project, a facility that the Nuclear Power and Energy Agency (Nupea) says will be a game changer for sectors such as health, energy, agriculture and education.

The facility, which will be set up at the Konza Technopolis where 65 acres of land have been set aside, is expected to be complete by 2030. 

The research reactor, according to Nupea, will be deployed for various applications, including training, education, research, health, agriculture and industry.

It will manufacture medical isotopes, which are important in the diagnosis and therapy of various ailments, including cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

Setting up of the facility, Nupea said, would be guided by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) milestone approach.

“This milestone approach represents a sequential prephase development of the 19 infrastructure issues and the completion of work at each phase forms the basis of evaluation and decision-making on whether to proceed to the next stage,” said Nupea Director-General John Wabuyabo during the opening of IAEA’s evaluation process in Nairobi Monday.

The research reactor will be set up separately from the nuclear power plant, which is being developed through another process also guided by IAEA and is expected to be operational in 2034.

A team of experts from IAEA led by Deputy Director-General Mikhail Chudakov are in the country for a weeklong evaluation of the progress that Kenya has made towards setting up the nuclear research reactor.

The process known as the integrated nuclear infrastructure review, will rate Kenya against several key international parameters.

“The research reactor is envisaged to be in operation by the end of 2030. The implementation of the nuclear reactor research project will play a key role in the realisation of the Vision 2030 goals. Such reactors have many applications in education and training, health, industry and energy and research," said Nupea boss Mr Wabuyabo.

“It will be the heart of the nuclear research centre, which is envisioned to be a centre of education and training as well as technical support to the broad nuclear power programme.”

He noted that the country had undertaken a feasibility study for the research reactor project. The findings gave Nupea an idea as to the kind of reactor that would be set and confirmed Konza to be an ideal site.

Mr Chudakov said together with his team of experts, they would look into the progress that Kenya has made and provide recommendations and suggestions that the government can use in realising the goal of building a research reactor.

“More and more countries around the world are looking at nuclear science and technology to enable them to tackle major challenges from climate change to energy security and sustainable development,” said Mr Chudakov. 

“Research reactors are centres of innovation and productivity of nuclear science and technology… you need sustainable energy and you need nuclear power and the research reactor is the first step.”

Kenya has in recent years made significant progress in the development of infrastructure for the nuclear programme.

In 2019, it enacted the Nuclear Regulatory Act, which provides a framework for the regulation of atomic energy and nuclear technology in Kenya.

The Act established the Kenya Nuclear Regulatory Authority (KNRA), which is currently in the process of putting in place necessary regulations that will regulate different aspects of nuclear power and energy in the country.

“The Act provides a comprehensive framework for the regulation of safe, secure and peaceful utilisation of atomic energy and nuclear technology in Kenya. Different from the previous Act, the new Act has brought on board several components that tough on the regulation of nuclear power including provides for safety of nuclear facilities and decommissioning, management of radioactive waste,” said John Opar from KNRA.

Shaukat Abdulrazak Director of Division for Africa at IAEA noted that the research reactor would come in handy in Kenya’s drive to achieve universal health coverage. 

“Kenya has plans to have at least one radiotherapy centre in every county. The research reactor will play a pivotal role in terms of of production of radioisotopes,” he said, adding it would be key for capacity building among the youth interested in nuclear science. 

Administrative Secretary Ministry of Energy Wycliffe Ogallo termed the research reactor a game changer that would usher in a new era for different sectors in the country. 

“The project will accelerate economic development and improve the quality of life through the application of nuclear energy technology in scientific research, industry and healthcare as outlined under the bottom-up economic agenda,” he said. 


Sci & Tech
How technology powered Gen Z 'Occupy Parliament' protests
Ray of hope for sugarcane farmers as Soin sugar factory revival takes shape
Premium Heineken set to pay distributor Sh1.7bn in Supreme Court blow
Enhancing food security through biofortification