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

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license 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.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid