News / Africa

Nigeria Proceeds With Controversial Nuclear Plans

A worker for Nigeria Power adjusts power lines in Lagos, Nigeria, July 2011. (file photo)
A worker for Nigeria Power adjusts power lines in Lagos, Nigeria, July 2011. (file photo)
Drew Hinshaw

Nigeria's announcement that it may build its first nuclear power plant is fueling concern the country is taking on too big and too dangerous of a project in an effort to end its constant power shortages. The announcement last Thursday came on the same day South Africa said it plans to build more nuclear plants.

Nigeria has such an acute energy problem that the country's constant power cuts are a chronic joke. After 30 years of stifling black-outs in this fast-growing country, however, Nigeria's leadership says nuclear power is a serious solution.

Last Thursday, President Goodluck Jonathan relaunched Nigeria's Atomic Energy Commission, which had temporarily paused after an earthquake in Japan shook confidence in atomic energy. The commission is tasked with planning what would be the first nuclear power plant in Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa's second largest economy.

That same day the energy minister of South Africa, the continent's largest economy, announced it will build tens of billions of dollars worth of new nuclear plants.

Potential nuclear surge in Africa

Today, South Africa's colorfully-painted nuclear stacks are the only ones standing on the African continent. But by the end of the decade, nuclear physicists say, Africa could be a boom land for nuclear power contractors looking to fill this continent's gaping power shortage.

The nuclear announcements from sub-Saharan Africa's largest and second largest economies come at an odd moment: Six months ago, an earthquake-caused tidal wave slammed into a Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, crashing cooling systems that then failed to prevent simmering radiation from seeping into the sea.

Abubakar Sambo, director-general of Nigeria's Energy Commission, said he recognizes the risks that Nigeria's nuclear program could end in catastrophe. But in the face of a different, more daily type of disaster - Nigeria's brutal, day-long power cuts - he said Nigeria has no choice but to go nuclear.

"The case of Nigeria is a very pathetic one. Here we have a country that has about 150 million people. But the electricity available to the people is just hovering around 3,500 megawatts," said Sambo. "That is why the Nigerian government, any route, any source through which energy can be added to the Nigerian people, it will go for it."

Tapping alternative energy sources

Muna Lakhani, the Cape Town coordinator for the environmental group Earthlife Africa, wishes African states like Nigeria would opt for something greener. The continent, he said, is rich in sunlight, rivers and wind that energy companies  - particularly Chinese firms - are becoming masters of harnessing.

"Quite frankly, I don't see the logic. The bottom line is that while it is absolutely true that electricity is a key component for development in Africa, there is no need whatsoever for us to follow the nuclear path," said Lakhani. "It's already very clear that alternative sustainable energy actually costs less per megawatt, and we have exactly those resources that alternative energy sources need, such as wind and sun."

Saharan winds and equatorial sunlight inevitably will power some portion of Nigeria's grid, said pro-nuclear advocate Kevin Kemm, CEO of South African energy consultant firm Stratek. However, he warned, there's no way scientists can make the sun shine bright enough or the wind blow fast enough, to provide the huge quantities of energy Nigeria needs to industrialize.

"You cannot build a modern African economy on the basis of a country's electricity supplies going up or down by substantial percentages.  You can lose as much as half of the country's electricity if it doesn't rain," said Kemm.

Nuclear plants, he said, are becoming easier and cheaper to build and operate. Any African country - Nigeria included - he added, has the capacity to do nuclear.

Understanding nuclear ramifications

However, nuclear physicist Igor Khripunov said Nigeria's leaders really ought to take a pause and consider the magnitude of what they're proposing. He said nuclear power is dangerous, incredibly complex, expensive up front, and not particularly suited to Nigeria's energy needs. It would be reckless, he said, for Nigeria to rush into a prestige project just to prove its own know-how.

"After Fukushima, building a nuclear power infrastructure is becoming an international responsibility for any country. It's not just a national prerogative," he said.

The responsible path for Africa's aspiring nuclear nations to take, Khripunov said, would be to allow experienced nuclear contractors to build an internationally-operated nuclear station as part of a multi-national power pool. Even then, he said, it is something that could take more than a decade to complete.

"Given all the possible repercussions and effects. The country should really be part of an international community, and transparent, and cooperating in the full sense, not only technically, but also politically and logistically," he said.

Energy demand issues

Kemm added that Nigeria should start with small, 200-megawatt power plants, which are easier to run, and so compact they can be built almost anywhere.

Nigerian Energy Commission's Sambo said Nigeria is thinking big: 4,000 megawatts big.

"Because if you look at Nigeria of today, you look at the population, then you have to say what is the energy demand? The energy demand we have at the moment is being put in some quarters at 10,000 megawatts, some even put it at 20,000 megawatts. Because the situation we have is that of a suppressed demand."

Once Nigerians get a taste of daily, uninterrupted electricity, he said, homes will fill up with refrigerators, air conditioners, and all types of appliances. When that happens, he added, nothing but nuclear power will be able to meet Nigeria's needs.

You May Like

Sydney Hostage-taker Failed to Manipulate Social Media

Gunman forced captives to use personal Facebook, YouTube accounts to issue his demands; online community helped flag messages, urged others not to share them More

UN Seeks $8.4 Billion to Help War-Hit Syrians

Effort aimed at helping Syrians displaced within their own country and those who've fled to neighboring ones More

Who Are the Pakistani Taliban?

It's an umbrella group of militant organizations whose objective is enforcement of Sharia in Pakistan 'whether through peace or war' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Putin: Russian Economy to Rebound in 2 Yearsi
X
December 18, 2014 5:13 PM
Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual end-of-the-year news conference Thursday, tackling questions on the Russian economy, the crisis in Ukraine and Russian relations with the west. VOA's Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Putin: Russian Economy to Rebound in 2 Years

Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual end-of-the-year news conference Thursday, tackling questions on the Russian economy, the crisis in Ukraine and Russian relations with the west. VOA's Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid