Nigeria’s expedition into Nuclear energy seems to be gathering momentum. The country has taken even more steps in that direction since it signed a cooperation accord with Russia towards the construction of its first nuclear power plant in 2012.
While this has garnered positive attention from many observers across the world, it has also gathered criticism from naysayers who compare the country with a toddler who has not learned to walk, but is in a hurry to run.
However, not many people understand nuclear power like Dr. Kirill Komarov. As First Deputy CEO of Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear energy company, he believes that the country is more than ready for nuclear energy.
In this exclusive interview with Hi-Tech, he talks about nuclear’s ability to transform the nation’s power sector, and invariably the economy at predictable costs. Excerpts:
By Prince Osuagwu
WHAT brought you here?
Nigeria is very interesting to us at Rosatom from several points of view. We are a very unique organisation which combines two statuses at the same time. One is the status of Ministry of nuclear energy in Russia, and the second is our status as a commercial organisation. We own more than 400 business entities. But the most unique is that we are the only organisation in the world that combines all the technological elements in the nuclear area; from mining and enrichment of uranium to production of nuclear fuels to manufacturing of nuclear equipment, construction of nuclear power plants among others.
For a country like Nigeria, it means we can bring a lot to the table because our experience is now more than 70 years. We began our nuclear experience in Russia in 1945 just after the Second World War. In 2015, we celebrated our 70th year anniversary.
How does your history help us?
We can bring our experience not just strictly in the area of nuclear power, but to use nuclear in other areas such as nuclear medicine, radioactive technologies for agriculture, radioactive tech for different industrial solutions among others. One opportunity is the fact that there is a huge energy deficit in Nigeria; there are several figures to compare. Nigeria’s population is more than that of Russia.
We have 140 million people in Russia, Nigeria has about 180 million. We have about 220 Gigawatts of electricity in the national energy system, Nigeria has six Gigawatts. This means that Nigeria is suffering from lack of electricity.“Nigeria is very similar to Russia. We have many natural resources like coal, gas, among others, just as Nigeria does. But even at that, Russia is still investing in nuclear.
Every country should have a special solution as to what sort of energy mix it wants to have. And it is very dangerous to have only one source of energy no matter how efficient it is. For example, we have a lot of coal and gas, but their prices have a high volatility. Sometimes they are very high, sometimes they are low. What we must take note of is the final cost of electricity, which is approximately 60 or 70 percent higher.
If the price of coal doubles, it means that the final cost of electricity will be 70 percent more; same for gas. However the cost of uranium, which is produced on a nuclear power plant, has just a three percent implication on the cost of electricity. Even if the cost of uranium goes up, you may not even feel the little impact it would have on electricity. That is very important for the people and for the industries. If you have predictable prices for electricity for the next sixty years, which is the minimum time to operate a modern nuclear power plant, it really helps to grow the economy.
In 2012, Nigeria signed an international agreement for the construction of the first nuclear power plant and Rosatom was chosen to do that. How far has it been?
You are correct. We are very proud of that and will do our best to achieve this goal. “What we decided to do was to create a special joint committee which is headed from the Russian side by me, and from the Nigerian side, by Dr. Franklin Erepamo Osaisai, Chairman, CEO of Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission. This joint coordination committee had several tasks.
The first was to implement this agreement with Nigeria about the construction of the first nuclear power plant. We have made some practical steps. We have prepared the project development agreement. It is a lot of work even before the project itself starts. We need to prepare good feasibility studies for banks and other investors.
Future nuclear development
We also prepared a very detailed plan about what we will do in the next two years to be able to finalize this feasibility study and then be ready to commence the project before the start of 2019. It is a good opportunity for both countries.“Our focus is on preparing a detailed plan on how we can answer all the tough questions in the space of two years.
But, in 2016 in Moscow, there was another Inter-Governmental agreement?
Yes, that is for the first multi-purpose nuclear research centre in Nigeria. It is very important because it can be done much faster than a nuclear power plant, it can create a platform for the future nuclear development of the country, and can help young people to start making scientific experiments and research in the field. It is a very practical step and can aid in area of nuclear medicine. The centre would be able to make nuclear isotopes that can aid therapy and fight against cancer and other types of ontological diseases. We will start work on the centre immediately.
This will also aid in the agricultural sector. Radiological treatments can keep agricultural products fresher for longer. It also fights against microbes. Just like we discussed with the Minister of Science and technology, Agriculture is very important to Nigeria. So if we find a way to preserve products for longer, it aids trade and exportation. It is very important that we prepare a draft of project development agreement for this project. Our idea is to finalize plans and sign all relevant contracts before the first half of 2018, and then in the second half of 2018, we plan to construct the nuclear resource centre.
How long can this project take to achieve?
We are just at the preliminary stages now, but I believe that we have a very detailed timeline of what we want to do in the future. Rosatom isn’t the only determining factor, there are other players. However, if all the parties follow the timeline we agreed on today, I think we can be successful. It’s difficult to say because it is the first nuclear project in the country, but the results of the special check up mission which was just a few months ago, by Atomic agencies of the most respected international organisations is very positive.
Please pardon my curiosity. Is low electricity capacity enough reason to jump into nuclear? Why does Nigeria need nuclear?
It is true that nuclear is new for Nigeria. But it is new for a lot of countries as well. But it should be a comfortable move when you are working with an experienced partner like Rosatom.
Using an energy mix is very profitable. You can use coal, solar, wind, hydro and nuclear. Nuclear is very stable and very predictable. Coal and gas plants are like a box, but it’s not your box. It is a box which is imported to your country from another country, and the participation of Nigerian industry in construction is very small. Nuclear however, is a huge infrastructure. Even countries that just began their construction of nuclear, there is a lack of experience. 20 to 25 percent of the project can be done by local companies.
Four nuclear units for example is a huge investment, about 20 billion dollars. If you create four units, believe me, you will be able to fulfil about 40 percent of the project; which means about eight billion dollars for local companies. We can calculate the social economic impact of the construction of nuclear power plants to the whole economy.
Each dollar invested in a nuclear power plant adds three to four dollars to a country’s GDP. The equipment is produced from metal, so the equipment producer makes some orders to the metal producer, who will pay salaries for people, produce the next level of orders, and on each level, you have money and there is a multiplier effect. This has a positive effect on the economy, particularly now there is recession.