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In new book, Umar canvasses nuclear solution to electricity challenge

By Bayo Ogunmupe
06 February 2022   |   3:31 am
Nigeria has serious energy crisis that has seemingly defied all solutions till date. When energy especially electricity was solely provided by government in the defunct National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), Nigerians experienced a gradual worsening of power supply.

Nigeria has serious energy crisis that has seemingly defied all solutions till date. When energy especially electricity was solely provided by government in the defunct National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), Nigerians experienced a gradual worsening of power supply.

The argument that government ‘’has no business in business’’ came up. In response, government privatised the power sector as well as other sectors to private business people. But the reality of Nigeria’s power situation for upwards of 10 years since electricity supply went into private hands has been anything but palatable. Now many of the electricity providers, especially the distribution companies or DISCOs, are going into receivership with entire boards sacked for poor performance.

Of course, the privatisation to transit electricity provision from government control into private hands was all but transparent, as those in government sold the power plants and distribution companies to cronies who had no expertise and financial muscle to make the needed investment to give 24-hour electricity to Nigerians. The result has remained a dismal outlook for Nigeria’s power sector, with no end in sight as the 21st century marches on.

In spite such failures, government has not relented in its efforts to provide Nigerians with power. The economy depends on electricity power to work. A regime of generators as the engine of electricity provision by individuals and businesses is not only unhealthy but also not cost-effective in driving an economy. Industrialisation without adequate electricity power is a pipe dream.

This is why, in spite of its delicate nature and strict global guidelines regulating it, the Nigerian government has devoted a certain amount of efforts to make inroads into nuclear energy as viable solution to the country’s perennial energy crisis.

It is this delicate energy sector that Dr. Abubakar Malah Umar has devoted his recent intellectual effort titled, Nuclear Energy in Nigeria: A Policy Book (Parresia Publishers Ltd, Lagos; 2021).

While many may be dismayed at this idea and argue that Nigeria should concentrate on less hazardous ways of energy provision like gas and thermal formats, Umar believes Nigeria has walked the right path so far in initiating moves to have nuclear energy to add to the existing energy mix for a sustained and adequate energy supply for the country. Trained in the sensitive are of nuclear and radiation physics and at the global regulatory nuclear agency, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Umar is in a position of strength to comment on nuclear energy and policy formulation that can help Nigeria navigate the sensitive energy provision through nuclear power.

In spite of abundance of natural energy resources like coal, gas, oil, hydro and solar, Umar argues that ‘’The electricity energy sector landscape has been characterised by deficiencies and inefficiencies throughout the entire value chain: Generation, Transmission and Distribution’’, blaming public sector (government) ownership as reason for the poor performance. While government failed to perform on energy provision, it has been able to do self-audit and come up with policy framework to revamp the sector. One of such early policy framework is the National Energy Policy (NEP) in 2003 with periodic reviews to reflect the changing times. Three major objectives characterise NEP, namely ‘’energy security, energy equity and environmental sustainability… to optimise Nigeria’s energy mix.’’

According to Umar, Nigeria started mulling nuclear energy option as far back as 1976. Interestingly, Uranium, Plutonium and Thorium that provide fuel for nuclear plants are available in Nigeria, with the country having been mapped and locations of these sensitive nuclear fuels known to the authority. Umar argues that the ‘’Use of nuclear technology is important to Nigeria because of its immense potentials (sic) not only for electrical energy generation but also for its tremendous and extensive roles in agricultural (nuclear techniques for improved yields and preservation), water resources (underground water hydrology), and industry (gauges, logging) and medicine (diagnostics and therapeutic applications).’’

In spite of these are noble intentions, how can the safety of nuclear energy be guaranteed in a country where, for instance, safety regulations for buildings are easily flouted to the harm of citizens? Umar provides answers in his well-argued book that takes the readers through the elementary phases of nuclear, with diagrams and charts, to its advanced stages that can generate electricity; it can also serve as an advance-level textbook for those in departments of energy studies. For one, nuclear energy, even for peaceful purposes, has strong global regulatory guidelines. For the country’s nuclear energy plans to come to fruition, the two regulatory bodies – Nigeria Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Nigeria Nuclear Atomic Energy Commission – will have to partner with international bodies with the expertise needed to help the country midwife the process to success. In fact, past two heads of these two agencies on nuclear matters wrote separate ‘forewords to Umar’s book. This further lends authority to Umar’s assertions in this book.

Umar’s Nuclear Energy in Nigeria: A Policy Book has seven illuminating chapters that include, ‘Introductory Note’, ‘Overview of Nuclear Energy Strategies and Plans’, ‘Nuclear Energy Resources and Infrastructure and Frameworks’, ‘Nuclear Energy Technology Assessment’, ‘Geopolitics of Nuclear Energy and International Cooperation’, ‘Insights and Challenges to Nuclear Energy Matters’, and ‘Vision for Nuclear Energy in Nigeria’. These are carefully thought-out chapters that deal with specific areas of the nuclear issues and Umar leaves no one in doubt of his firm grasp of the issues at stake.

Umar further argues that there is a renaissance in nuclear energy demands in recent years that Nigeria should take advantage for her essential power needs. That way the country would most likely overcome its electricity needs than rely on fossil fuels that have negative environmental impact in an era of climate change challenges.

Umar’s ‘Nuclear Energy in Nigeria: A Policy Book’ is a timely intervention in the country’s electricity energy crisis, as it takes readers from the very elementary issues in the electricity power equation to the complex ones with nuclear power as appropriate energy mix requirements. With an economy that is at its lowest point due to poor government policies, perhaps now is the time to think sustainability, cost-effectiveness and reliability that nuclear energy for electricity supply offers.