ACCORDING to Franklin Erepamo Osaisai, the
Chairman and Chief Executive of the Nigeria
Atomic Energy Commission, the Nigerian
government has set up a Joint Coordination
Committee for negotiations with Rosatom, a
Russian company, on the financing and
contracting for nuclear power generation plants.
This current proposal would involve the
construction of a series of multi-billion nuclear
power plants to generate a total of 4800 MGWs of
electricity by 2035, with the first plant, generating
1200 MGW to be operational in 2025.
Planning for this nuclear power option apparently
began in the waning years of the Obasanjo
administration, and both the Yar’Adua and
Jonathan administrations endorsed the planning
process. Until the 2011 nuclear power disaster in
Japan, nuclear power generation was enjoying a
revival due to its limited carbon footprint
compared to coal and other fossil fuels, in a
context of growing concern about climate change.
However, following this accident, enthusiasm for
nuclear generation changed to fear and,
accordingly, governments across the globe began
to reassess their policies and the plans for nuclear
power plants.
While Nigeria should aim for diversity in its power
sources, nuclear power plants are very expensive
to construct and fraught with serious risks;
diversification does not start with the most
expensive and risky option.
Nigeria needs more electricity now and a promise
of 1200MG in 2025 and 4800 MGW in 2035 will
not make a dent in those needs. Nuclear power
generation is not the solution to the current
energy conundrum in Nigeria. Since the
Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in March
2011, the revival of nuclear power generation has
suffered a reversal.
Fukushima was a reminder of the earlier nuclear
reactor meltdown at the nuclear plant in
Chernobyl, Ukraine (then part of the USSR) in
April 1986.
Radiation from this accident affected a wide
region in the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus and the
adverse effects continue to be felt across the
region. The cities and towns around the plant,
deserted after the accident, are still not safe for
human habitation.
Post-accident assessments of the two major
nuclear disasters indicated human error as the
cause of the meltdowns. While the tsunami
triggered the Fukushima disaster, the operators
and regulators had failed to take countermeasures
against a large tsunami, even though scientific
knowledge had indicated the likelihood of an
earthquake and resulting tsunami of the
magnitude that occurred in March 2011.
Human error was the primary cause of the
explosion and fire at the nuclear power plant in
Chernobyl. Fukushima disrupted the livelihood of
people living in surrounding regions and the cost
of dealing with the aftermath of the disaster has
been enormous. Developed countries, with their
populations fearful of the dangers of nuclear
facilities, are promoting other options for power
supply, particularly wind and solar generation.
In the United States, the largest supplier of
commercial nuclear power in the world, plans for
several new nuclear power plants were cancelled
and a number of aging nuclear reactors and
power stations have been permanently shut down.
Nuclear power plants and generation are capital
intensive and costly to construct and dismantle.
On the other hand, nuclear plants have limited
carbon footprint and long life spans of about 50
years, about 10 years and 30 years longer than
fossil fuel plants and solar and wind renewables
respectively.
Nigeria has massive needs for power now and
with a wealth of energy resources – coal, oil,
natural gas, hydro, solar and wind, a US$20
billion commitment for nuclear power generation
of 5000 MGW could be applied to the generation
of significantly more power from these resources
in the medium term.
That Nigeria has attempted without much success
to generate more power through the conventional
resources does not imply it cannot be done. The
obstacles have been founded on government
policies and management tactics that engender
deficiencies in project conception, selection and
implementation and the maintenance of power
plants and transmission lines.
These deficiencies are not limited to the power
sector; they also undermine the effectiveness of
public investments in all sectors. Working with a
foreign company as proposed for the nuclear
power plants would not necessarily eliminate the
project conception and implementation risks, as
demonstrated by the failures of the Ajaokuta steel
facility, the oil refineries, the Oku-Iboku paper mill
and other large public sector ventures.
A nuclear reactive disaster will engender the
health and livelihood of Nigerians and other
inhabitants of West Africa. Such disasters could
stem human error in the design and operation of
the plants and even acts of terror.
Managing, regulating and securing nuclear plants
and coping with any disasters will be very
challenging for Nigeria. Further, Nigeria and its
neighbouring countries are prone with internal
conflict and terrorists and the activities of
disgruntled groups such as the current Boko
Haram would increase the risks of nuclear
accidents.
It would be imprudent to disregard these sources
of risk perhaps by assuming that they pose no
such threats and that Nigeria would develop the
capacity to effectively handle nuclear power
security and accidents; and that internal and
external conflicts would be under control.
To prevent penetration by unauthorised persons,
nuclear facilities are usually fortified but they can
hardly be made impregnable. Serious dissidents
always seem to find ways to thwart well-laid
plans against them.
Apart from the risks to health and livelihood,
other risks of this proposed project include: (i)
the prospects of cost overruns are high,
particularly in such a project of long run duration;
(ii) external control of the security and power
generation by the Russian company, a putative
world power with fragile economic and political
foundations; and (iii) with a long time frame, a
nuclear accident anywhere in the world would
ignite opposition to the project by local and
international forces that could hinder
implementation, with the possibility of
international sanctions on countries with “unsafe”
nuclear installations; and (iv) with rapidly
changing technology in the power sector, the
project could become a white elephant project
before it generates the first watt of power.
The handling of this nuclear power deal testifies
to the opaqueness of government policy-making
and the lack of analytical rigor and transparency
in Nigeria, leading to disaster-prone decision-
making.

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