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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy 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.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid