Several African countries are on the journey towards establishing their first nuclear plant. Kenya is among these countries and has purposed that it is necessary to diversify the country’s energy mix in order to improve its electricity generation capacity.
However, a lot of questions still linger in the public minds as to whether the country is ready for a nuclear power generating plant.
The existing mindset out there has been constructed negatively as a result of the Nuclear disasters which have happened in the past and recently.
People ask of what use is there to build a Nuclear Power Plant when the country has substantial sources to exploit energy in wind, geothermal, solar, natural gas among others.
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The public needs to understand that with the renewables, their energy supply is intermittent and lacks the required baseload to provide electricity supply throughout.
The population, as it is, will not be constant; this is because in the next five years or so Kenya’s population will be more than 50 million, the same applies to the rest of Africa.
So, would there be enough supply to power the growing demand? Definitely, there have to be other sources of energy to be exploited in order to meet the expected rise in demand.
Although the government is going ahead with the Nuclear Power Plant establishment, serious doubts have been expressed within the public circles.
Some reasons for doubts include lack of properly trained manpower, the overall cost of the project, suitability of the sites where nuclear plants are going to be built and nuclear disaster management.
At the outset, there were hardly any nuclear engineers currently working for the Nuclear Power and Energy Agency. The agency has, however, done quite a lot to ensure that the existing engineers working for the agency are exposed to further training abroad on Nuclear Power Generation and mentored.
The government through the Agency has rolled out annual training programmes targeting Kenyans for training in various fields so as to build adequate capacity for the country’s nuclear power programme.
Mostly the training comprises of both short and long term programmes in partnership with local and international institutions. This year two Kenyans were selected to undertake a Masters Programme at the Tsinghua University in China for an International graduate programme in nuclear engineering management.
The Agency has also since hosted experts from South Korea on the development of local nuclear science and engineering course at Kenyatta University.
Without competent engineers, it is very difficult to initiate a nuclear power programme and it is with this recognition that the agency is expanding the capacity of Kenyans. It takes roughly about three to five years to train nuclear engineers.
With regard to sites where the Nuclear Power Plant is going to be established. The agency has already completed the criteria for site selection of Nuclear Power Plants in Kenya; field studies and ranking of candidates’ sites have also been completed.
Concerns have been raised to the technical issues associated with storage, and transportation and the disposal of radioactive material and waste.
This needs to come out clear as to where the waste is going to be stored. Is it in the country? Or will it be taken back by the country that will be tasked with the building of the nuclear plant?
This is indeed a problem that up to date, there is still no country that has completed the entire fuel cycle or handled the issue of spent fuel management in practice.
Attention also needs to be expressed about the Safety of Nuclear reactors to be used. The common VVER-1000s reactors have been rejected globally by many countries owing to their failure to meet European Safety Standards.
Thus, informing the public of the track record of chosen nuclear reactors will be of uttermost importance in order for their concerns on safety be addressed.
Justification of a Nuclear Power Plant.
At present nuclear energy produces close to 15 per cent of the world’s electricity and 5.7 pc of the total primary energy used worldwide. Meanwhile, the global energy supply and energy use per capita are increasing.
The contribution of nuclear for electricity generation varies from region to region. In Western Europe, the nuclear power that is generated accounts for almost 27 pc of total electricity. In Northern Europe, it’s about 18 pc and Africa 2.4 pc.
At the moment there are approximately 400 nuclear power reactors operating in almost 30 different countries worldwide. This demonstrates the rapid growth and success of the technology
Still, Western Countries are still trying to reduce their dependence on Nuclear energy and are instead focusing on Solar and Wind.
The Fukushima Daichi nuclear accident renewed the debate about the safety of nuclear energy especially among the public, whose thoughts of building a nuclear plant has been switched towards Negative perception.
Nuclear energy technology continues to be highly contested technology not because it is a highly beneficial technology but because of the risks that have been associated with it.
For the purpose of the public record, Nuclear plants are the safest in that they emit no pollution compared to the burning of fossil fuels.
During accidents, a nuclear plant can only release negligible amounts of radioactive matter. People can’t die from small radioactive matter that escapes from a nuclear plant. People did not die during the Fukushima accident.
People have formed the perception that any small nuclear radiation-related incident will lead to a situation like the Chernobyl accident. People are exposed to radiation daily in the form of cosmic rays, X-rays, CT scans, Mobile Phones and also during surgeries.
We cannot predict what will happen in the future and to a larger extent, we have to leave it to destiny. Therefore, it shouldn’t always be perceived that if nuclear plants are built today, then there is going to be an accident of some sort. This is fearful anticipation and it varies from person to person.
And since Nuclear Projects are established pursuant to a declared national policy, public engagement and providing information will help the public in dealing with the fear of nuclear power generation.
The Nuclear Power Energy Agency is already in the process of sensitizing the public on Nuclear Power Generation in the various counties in Kenya.
Nuclear Power Generation will help a lot with reducing climate change effects. The burning of more of fossil fuels is likely to contribute to an increase in carbon emissions, which is what currently contributes to climate change globally.
With the threats of climate change in mind, many governments and environmentalists have begun to reconsider nuclear power as potentially cleaner compared to fossil fuels.
Kenyan households and businesses will need competitively-priced, reliable, safe and sustainable energy to deliver on its Big Four Agenda priorities: affordable housing, manufacturing, food security, and universal healthcare.
Hence the government proposing to pursue nuclear as an option based on the principle of peaceful utilization of atomic energy.
The writer is the Research Associate at Energy Security Program, CISA