Thursday, 1st June 2023

Advancing nuclear energy in Nigeria

By Chukwuma Muanya
22 July 2021   |   3:02 am
Despite its potential as the second-largest source of low-carbon electricity in the world behind hydropower, nuclear is often left out of the “clean energy” conversation.

[FILES] Nuclear energy

*After two years of inactivity, FG inaugurates Committee for Peaceful Use of Atomic Energy

Despite its potential as the second-largest source of low-carbon electricity in the world behind hydropower, nuclear is often left out of the “clean energy” conversation.

However, Office of Nuclear Energy has provided reasons why nuclear is clean and sustainable. Nuclear is a zero-emission clean energy source. It generates power through fission, which is the process of splitting uranium atoms to produce energy. The heat released by fission is used to create steam that spins a turbine to generate electricity without the harmful byproducts emitted by fossil fuels.

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the United States avoided more than 476 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2019. That is the equivalent of removing 100 million cars from the road and more than all other clean energy sources combined.

It also keeps the air clean by removing thousands of tons of harmful air pollutants each year that contribute to acid rain, smog, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

Also, despite producing massive amounts of carbon-free power, nuclear energy produces more electricity on less land than any other clean-air source.

A typical 1,000-megawatt nuclear facility needs a little more than one square mile to operate. NEI said wind farms require 360 times more land area to produce the same amount of electricity and solar photovoltaic plants require 75 times more space.

To put that in perspective, one would need more than three million solar panels to produce the same amount of power as a typical commercial reactor or more than 430 wind turbines (capacity factor not included).

Also, nuclear fuel is extremely dense. It is about one million times greater than that of other traditional energy sources and because of this, the amount of used nuclear fuel is not as big as one might think.

The NICE Future Initiative is a global effort under the Clean Energy Ministerial that makes sure nuclear will be considered in developing the advanced clean energy systems of the future.

Until now, Nigeria’s nuclear power programme has stagnated. Since 2004, Nigeria has a Chinese-origin research reactor at Ahmadu Bello University, and has sought the support of the International Atomic Energy Agency to develop plans for up to 4,000 MWe of nuclear capacity by 2027, according to the National Programme for the Deployment of Nuclear Power for Generation of Electricity.

Nigeria hoped to begin construction in 2011 and start nuclear power production in 2017-2020.

On July 27, 2007 Nigeria’s former President Umaru Yar’Adua had urged the country to embrace nuclear power in order to meet its growing energy needs.

In April 2015, Nigeria began talks with Russia’s state-owned Rosatom to collaborate on the design, construction and operation of four nuclear power plants by 2035, the first of which will be in operation by 2025. In June 2015, Nigeria selected two sites for the planned construction of the nuclear plants.

Neither the Nigerian government nor Rosatom would disclose the specific locations of the sites, but it is believed that the nuclear plants will be sited in Akwa Ibom State, in South-South Nigeria, and Kogi State, in the central northern part of the country. Both sites are planned to house two plants each.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government, last week, inaugurated the re-constituted Russian-Nigerian Joint Coordination Committee (JCC), of the National Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC), in an effort to resuscitate the relationship between the two countries in cooperation for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, represented by the Permanent Secretary, Ecological Fund Office, Dr. Habiba Lawal, inaugurated the members in Abuja.

According to a statement signed by Director, Information, to the SGF, Willie Bassey, within the framework of Nigeria’s bilateral relations with the Russian Federation, a number of Intergovernmental Agreements (IGAs) were signed between the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC) and Russia’s State-owned Nuclear Corporation (ROSATOM) for cooperation in the design, construction and decommissioning of nuclear power plants on the territory of Nigeria.

Mustapha noted that JCC was put in place to allow for effective negotiations, particularly focused on ensuring that Nigeria is not subjected to any unfair trade agreements during the process of Nigeria’s engagement and discussions with ROSATOM and on the implementation of the various elements of the agreement.

The SGF emphasised that the reconstituted JCC was informed by the need to bring in new people with ideas that will guarantee the effective implementation of the various elements of the agreements that have been signed.

He added: “As JCC members, a lot is expected from you in the discharge of this onerous task. Considering the calibre of people that have been assembled here today, I am optimistic that the committee will succeed.”

Speaking earlier, Acting Chairman/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NAEC, Prof. Yusuf Ahmed, disclosed that Nigeria’s tremendous feat has secured the country a seat for the 16th time as one of the four African countries on the 35-member Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the highest policy organ of the IAEA.

In order to sustain the feat, Yusuf, revealed that NAEC has continued to reorientate the public on the general misconception of nuclear and its applications in different human endeavors. He said: “Nigeria must begin to work towards diversifying her energy resource base to include nuclear in order to ensure the country’s energy security.”

In his acceptance speech on behalf of JCC, Dr. Nasir Bello, assured the government of the preparedness of the members to collectively bring into the assignment their vast technical and professional expertise.

The terms of reference of the committee include among others to: provide a broad framework for cooperation with the Russian Federation in the peaceful uses of atomic energy; ensure dynamic monitoring and implementation of all agreements with the Russian Federation; supervise the activities of the Joint Working Groups; ensure that Nigeria is not subjected to any unfair trade agreement during the process of negotiation with ROSATOM; work hard and to make sure that the interest of Nigeria is paramount, and to ensure that Nigeria plays its role in the implementation of various elements of the agreements, and have a unity of purpose during negotiation in order to ensure that Nigeria is not defrauded in the implementation of the agreement.

Meanwhile, over the past decade opposition to nuclear has been growing as concerns have risen about the environmental costs in terms of radiation risks and waste management, safety concerns, delays in the construction of nuclear power plants, and the high costs involved. The issue of public acceptance is also critical. But these concerns are not without solutions.

According to a report published by The Conservation titled “Why nuclear energy should be part of Africa’s energy mix”, it is believed there are three reasons why African countries should pursue the nuclear power option as part of their energy mix. The first is the continent’s dire energy crisis.

Secondly, Africa derives most of its energy from fossil fuels. These are finite and nonrenewable and dwindling in supply. They are also subject to price volatility.

Thirdly, nuclear energy can help countries meet targets under the Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions. Nuclear can help them reach that goal because carbon emissions linked to nuclear-powered energy are relatively small. In addition, supply is reliable and prices stable and predictable.

South Africa is the only African country that has nuclear power in its energy mix. Two nuclear reactors in Koeberg near Cape Town generate five per cent of the country’s electricity. But a number of other African countries are currently pursing nuclear power. The list includes Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Morocco, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and lately, Rwanda.

But African countries need to address concerns around nuclear energy. In particular, they need to allay the fear about possible nuclear accidents that continue to permeate the global atomic market.