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

VOA Exclusive: Interview With Myanmar President Thein Sein

Thein Sein calls allegations that minority Muslim Rohingya are fleeing alleged torture in Rakhine state a media fabrication More

New Yellow Fever Research May Lead to Improved Treatment

Researchers identify features of disease that may lead to more effective treatment More

UN Rights Commission Investigates Eritrea

Three-member commission will start collecting first-hand information from victims and other witnesses in Switzerland and Italy next week 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.
Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concernsi
X
November 19, 2014 11:39 PM
The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.
Video

Video What Jon Stewart Learned About Iran From 'Rosewater'

Jon Stewart, host of the satirical news program "The Daily Show" talks with Saman Arbabi of Voice of America's Persian service about Stewart's directorial debut, "Rosewater."
Video

Video Lebanese Winemakers Thrive Despite War Next Door

In some of the most volatile parts of Lebanon, where a constant flow of refugees crosses the border from Syria, one industry continues to flourish against the odds. Lebanese winemakers say after surviving a brutal civil war in the 1970s and 80s, they can survive anything. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
Video

Video China's Rise Closely Watched

China’s role as APEC host this week allowed a rare opportunity for Beijing to showcase its vision for the global economy and the region. But as China’s stature grows, so have tensions with other countries, including the United States. VOA’s Bill Ide in Beijing reports on how China’s rise as a global power is seen among Chinese and Americans.

All About America

AppleAndroid