Thursday, July 25, 2024
CommentaryAfrica and the growing nuclear power plant

Africa and the growing nuclear power plant

Contrary to the fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas, which produce emissions, when generated, and are recognised to bring the global warming, due to climate change, nuclear energy has immense advantages. The benefits of nuclear energy is, it is environmentally clean, contains no greenhouse gas emission like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, methane, and other pollutants into the atmosphere, writes Gedion Getahun.

Population and economic growth as well as the global negative climate change and other environmental problems have forced a large number of African countries to change ultimately the ways and the methods of their energy development. Those African countries which have signed cooperation agreement to utilise nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and conditions have strong aim. By establishing nuclear infrastructure, they wish to create nuclear research and technology centers. Some countries are highly eager, not only to produce electric power, but also to extrapolate the application of this technology into, medical, agricultural, technological fields.

There are registered African countries with uranium production and untapped uranium ore. Fox example Namibia, Niger and South Africa reserve uranium, and hold approximately 20 percent of the world’s uranium annual production, required to fuel nuclear power stations around the globe. These countries are more attractive for the nuclear firms. The nuclear fuel companies can earn their lion’s share in developing and disseminating nuclear technology.

Sub Saharan Africa countries possess combustible materials as the primary source of energy. Some of them, own dam for hydropower, wind farms, geothermal energy, solar as well as fossils. Nuclear energy source is another alternative. Through the nuclear energy, the continent reaches the age of the power mix technology era. However, this doesn’t apply to South Africa, which owns a nuclear power plant (Koberg) over 40 years. Currently, the feasibility of establishing nuclear reactor for energy purpose in Africa is taken for granted. For this reason almost all African Countries cooperate with nuclear power countries.

The countries may be able to generate several Giga Watt of electric power, increase the energy capacity to supply and fulfill the energy consumption, at public and private sectors. This could happen possibly by the end of 2040, and depends from miscellaneous factors, like demographic structure and the industrialisation. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is responsible for Technical Cooperation, training Fellowships etc. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in collaboration with, industrialised nuclear power countries support financially and technically, the developing countries as well as the countries in economic transition. The IAEA has also, the Peaceful Uses of Initiative (PUI) programme, launched in 2010 and responsible for the funding of projects and technical supporting.

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The participation of the African Countries in nuclear energy and other nuclear infrastructure requires, the detailed knowledge, and the acknowledgment of the ratification of the comprehensive Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty articles 1, 7, 10-12 of the UN, especially the clear statement:

 “The nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”.

The demand of nuclear energy for Africa has immense role. It is also an enormous challenge for Africa with a wide dimension range. To mention a few:

enables fundamental and applied nuclear science researches

helps the further Development of Nuclear Infrastructure

establishes the radioisotope technologies and their application in industrial, medical agricultural fields (insect pest control, watershed management).

makes the application and the facility of nuclear medicine, radio pharmacy, radiotherapy more attractive. 

The advantages of the nuclear technology

Contrary to the fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas, which produce emissions, when generated, and are recognised to bring the global warming, due to climate change, nuclear energy has immense advantages.

The benefits of nuclear energy is, it is environmentally clean, contains no greenhouse gas emission like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, methane, and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Therefore, beside hydrothermal, wind as well as solar and photovoltaic, nuclear energy has proved zero global emission. Furthermore, the nuclear technology is applicable almost everywhere and its benefit in medical (human and animal health), pharmaceutical, (radio pharmacy), environmental (watershed, soil, drought) fields is well recognised globally for quite a long time.

The disadvantages of the nuclear technology 

1.0. Risk of nuclear technology/nuclear safety

Despite all these wide range of technological dimensions, nuclear technology is associated with high risk potentials. These are:

  1. The Disposal of the Nuclear Waste
  2. The accidents (radioactive fallout through explosion)
  3. Earthquake
  4. The Security, which is divided between external damages (bombes and missile) and internal damages (cyber-attack) 
  5. The illicit trafficking of nuclear and other radioactive materials on national and international level

Taking these facts into consideration, the disadvantages of this noble technology, has to be discussed short. The nuclear accidents of the last 40-50 years, have given sufficient evidences, that the technology is highly dangerous if it is not controlled permanently. Even through day to day check and optimal control mechanism, with high tech instrumentation and knowhow, there is no guarantee.  The accident can occur any time any moment. The nuclear science research has given the prove that, unlike any other technological accidents (chemicals, gases), nuclear accident, has the phenomena of a long lasting ecology and environmental as well as health damages with unaccountable disaster on this planet. This happens due to the physical and chemical characteristics of the energy supplying nuclear elements, known as uranium. Once the accident has occurred, due to high radioactive contamination the surrounding regions and areas have to be evacuated quickly and should exist empty for decades in some cases for several hundred years without human and livestock. This is the reality.  In this context, the consequences of the accidents at the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear reactors in 1986 and 2011 respectively have to be remembered. These accidents were highly frustrating and sad. Prior to these accidents, several other small nuclear accidents and incidents have occurred in various countries. 

2.0. The technology

Except the requirements of high tech scientific and engineering equipment, the technology requires also the highest security standards, research in healthcare, power generation .Also the training of professionals like nuclear experts; operators, technicians and nuclear engineers is necessary.

3.0. The finance

Foreign debt and financing the nuclear power plant

To establish nuclear power plants, African Countries need huge amount of money, time to plan, implementations, and technological investments. Who is going to fund the high tech projects? Almost all Sub-Saharan African and few others have outstanding debt that counts several billions of USD. Which nuclear power country sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and compromises to write off the African debts?  The issue of outstanding debt relief should hold the key position, prior to the commencement of the implementation process of nuclear power in Africa. African Countries require for their master plan more than $ 200-300-billion Dollars, approximately for about 500 -600 projects that would be implemented to meet the total demand of several Giga Watt energy by the end of 2040.

Solution of nuclear power plant problems, which may appear in the future in African continent

Ecology and environment

African Countries with uranium resources and other radioactive ores are most likely for the uranium exploration as well for its exploitation and environmentally damage.  In order to protect their environment, public health, from the dumped radioactive ores and materials, they have to be keen to bring useful environmental legislation. The environmental law should be taken very serious and must be applied to keep the public and the ecology safe and free from any radioactive contamination. 

Control of the nuclear power

To overcome the risk the following ideas should be considered.

Strong and reliable regulatory systems which reflect the international standard requirements have to be established and conformed.

International security standards and updated technologies have to be guaranteed. 

High level of self-assessment and enhanced regional cooperation are needed.    

• Secured nuclear waste disposal, possibly applying a deep geological repository is needed. This guarantees the radiation protection and has a long lasting success, if done properly.  

Radiation Emergency Management is required.

• Nuclear power plant countries in Africa should have the strength to participate and build excellent regional, national and international arrangements, to response radiological and nuclear emergencies.

Selectivity and necessity of nuclear power

What types of nuclear reactors are required?

 To overcome the energy problem of the continent priorities have to be given to all possible energy generating methods to reduce the capacity of the nuclear power and keep this technology possibly as alternative in African Continent.

African continent is endowed by nature with huge amount of water, wind, solar and geothermal energy potentials. Hydropower, geothermal, solar power, wind farms, among others belong to green and clean energy technologies. Therefore, the potentials and opportunities of the African Energy Systems should be given priority, before nuclear. The fact is African Countries should help each other by importing and exporting electrical energy.

For example, the Eastern and the Southern African Regional Power Pools like EAPP and SAPP with their interconnected grids will help a lot. The construction and updating of the regional grid systems as well as the energy distribution techniques are for the energy supply highly crucial. Be it renewable or nonrenewable energy, without well planned and implemented, controlled and updated smart grid technology, the nuclear power accounts much less than expected. Therefore, to get involved and to make all the possible efforts to improve the known “inside technology” is to recommend. To meet the growing energy demand and technology progress of African Countries, smaller nuclear reactors and multifunctional research reactors, are much more preferable. From the economic and environmental point of view, small research nuclear reactors are useful. They are highly essential, for development, education, training as well as production of neutrons for industry, medicine and agriculture. In this respect, the construction and the application of reactors of old generation, should possibly be avoided.

Finance and investments

In order to support the regional and the national economic growth, center for nuclear science and nuclear engineering as well as center of excellences for African Science and Technology has to be created.  This needs investments. Therefore, African Countries should unit and look for investments.

Finally, in relation to the establishment of nuclear power in Africa, there are contemporary dialogues concerning: 

  1. human and animal health
  2. water shortage
  3. soil improvement
  4. food security
  5. raising the standard of living and avoiding poverty

This public discourse is in the widest sense of the word, false and untrue.

First: The lack of adequate medical care for cancer patients everywhere in Africa is well known. Therefore, accessibility to the medical care (hospitals, clinics, health centers) has to be improved. Of course, if nuclear diagnostic and radiotherapy are applied, the situation will be improved, but the entire problem is not solved through nuclear medicine and radiotherapy. This is possible only by raising the standard of the entire health system through finance, and qualified personnel, in the continent.

Second: Several regions in Africa are vulnerable to dry season. Water shortage, drought and famine are good examples. To overcome this natural and artificial (human made) vulnerabilities like environmental degradation, and poor crop production, sustainability programs, like afforestation, environmentally friendly technologies are required. Also the UNEP- Program against drought, may be helpful. As alternative nuclear and water isotope techniques, could be applied. The technique gives great insight into the problems affecting the agriculture and causes water shortage, soil erosion through drought. However, this isotopic technology should not be seen as a remedy to avoid drought and water shortage from the continent forever.

Third:  In many African countries especially in Sub-Sahara Africa, Anopheles (mosquito) and Tsetse flies affecting human, livestock and animal husbandry exist. Africa has gone a long way, with this problem dramatically. It might be true that nuclear technique helps to eradicate the flies. The mosquito eradication programme exists quite a long time. Where is the stand point of the medicine at the moment? In other words, how far has the research in this specific field has gone to mitigate or fight against this disease?  Or is nuclear the best remedy to eradicate malaria from Africa?

FourthThere is a widespread belief that, nuclear technology has a strong power to raise the standard of living in Africa. Comparing all the above mentioned comments, this is the least believable and unacceptable.

Poverty in Africa and elsewhere is a complex nature and depends from several factors. Even in highly industrialised countries, where the nuclear power and other sophisticated high tech are at home, poverty has increased enormously. Currently, world statistic of poverty line shows the raise of poverty with it, social exclusion and poor income level in these developed countries are common.

Therefore, Africa has to establish democracy and good governance policy, exercise economic liberty. Also improved African mineral resources price worldwide, as well as agricultural economy and balanced ecological and environmental work programmes are essential. Finally Africa should do its best to be emerging economy. Furthermore, education, scientific and medical research fields, with micro-and macroeconomic program have to be improved and developed. All these have to be coupled with the nuclear power technology, to raise the standard of living, with it the GNP. This may help to avoid poverty in Africa, but not the nuclear alone.

Considering the statement of Murphy’s Law “New system generate new problem” economical, environmental, technical solutions in advance and for long term will certainly help to overcome emerging problem in nuclear Africa.

Ed.’s Note: Gedion Getahun (PhD) is a radioanalytical chemist and isotopic scientist. He is an associate professor at the University of Applied Science and Academy of Science and Technology, Mainz, Germany. The views expressed in this article do not reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].


Contributed by Gedion Getahun


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