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Nigeria and nuclear fusion – Part – 1

By J.K. Obatala
20 October 2016   |   7:24 am
The problem is, Nigerians don’t always think strategically. Policy makers, in particular, conceptualize minerals in Colonial paradigms: As commodities to be “commercially exploited”.
Nuclear fusion

Nuclear fusion

Nature has endowed Nigeria with an enormous array of survival assets: Not least among them, being a bountiful trove of strategic minerals.

The problem is, Nigerians don’t always think strategically. Policy makers, in particular, conceptualize minerals in Colonial paradigms: As commodities to be “commercially exploited”.

It should surprise no one, therefore, that the confirmed presence of lithium—a highly strategic mineral—in northern Nigeria has hardly been a cause celebre.

Yet the availability of this metal—one of the three “primordial elements,” along with hydrogen and helium—is a crucial passageway to national energy security, industrial strength and military prowess.

Specifically, possession of lithium, positions Nigeria perfectly, to meet the challenge of the burgeoning Energy Revolution, whose flagship technology is the nuclear fusion reactor.

In addition to its importance in manufacturing, medicine and weapons technology, lithium also plays a critical role in the fusion process.

Fusion reactors, employing the same energy-generating mechanism as the Sun and other stars, are expected to produce nearly half the world’s energy within the next four decades or so.

As a paean to the foresight of the Federal Government, Nigeria’s atomic energy programme, based on nuclear fission, has long begun to take shape.

The European Nuclear Society reports that the type of reactors Nigeria is installing, can generate, from one kilogram (kg) of uranium 235, three million times the energy a kg of oil or coal will release!

But while a fission reactor system provides a timely safety net—a transitional expedient, with the Petroleum Era ending—fusion (or thermonuclear) systems is the prime energy source of the future.

According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), the fusion of light atomic nuclei releases more than four times more energy than the fission (splitting) of uranium-235.

Added to this, is the fact that fusion reactors are safe enough to operate in populated areas (there can be no Fukushima-like meltdown) and produce few pollutants or long-lived radioactive substances.

Test reactors, based on the fusion principle, have either been active or under construction for more than 30 years.

The most widely publicized projects are the Joint European Torus (JET) in the United Kingdom, the International Thermonuclear Test Reactor (ITER) and Germany’s Wendelstein 7-X stellarator.

ITER is a joint venture of several states, including the U.S.A., South Korea, Japan, China and India. But some participating countries, and even a few private corporations, also have their own fusion projects.

As I have lamented repeatedly, in this column and in my public lectures, Africa is out of the loop: There is no single Sub-Saharan state involved in any of these energy research projects.

This is due mainly to a nearsighted social vision and virtually no respect for, or concern with, strategic matters. These potentially suicidal policy flaws are often masked as “pragmatism”.

Yet how can the failure of planners to think of the future, their unwillingness to act in the interest of unborn generations of Africans, be construed as “pragmatic” or “realistic” social planning?

Quite to the contrary, such behaviour is inherently unrealistic and certainly is not practical. What more “practical results” could policy makers hope to achieve, than to secure the future of their kind?

“Cost” is another often heard—and utterly boring—rationalization. It is, pure and simple, a copout, which reflects a pathetic lack of resourcefulness and political will.

Nigeria obviously cannot afford a fully-fledged fusion project. But the presence of lithium (and other strategic minerals) is an avenue into the New Energy Era—if only planners would think strategically!

• To be continued.

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