By Oscarline Onwuemenyi
ABUJA – With the nation’s ambition for nuclear-generated energy, as well as growing demand for radioactive sources in other sectors, the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NNRA) has called for tighter regulatory measures in order to prevent radiological mishaps in and around the country.
The Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of the NNRA, Prof. Shamsideen Elegba, made this position on Thursday, in Abuja, at a meeting of the Nigerian Nuclear Security Committee with operators of nuclear equipment in the country.
He explained that due to the nation’s ambition to establish Nuclear Power plants, as well as other nuclear facilities and equipment in the country that use or emit ionizing radiation, there was need to bring them under effective regulatory control and regular reports made on them to the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
He said, â€œThe most important requirement for a successful nuclear power programme is a well-established and effective regulatory framework for radiation protection, nuclear safety, security and safeguards.
â€œAt the local level, there is a the Nigerian Nuclear Security Committee made up of the Chief of Defence Staff, the State Security Service, Police, Customs, Immigration, and the Federal Ministries of Justice, Health, Foreign Affairs, and Petroleum Resources which ensures that the nation’s security interests are protected in the nuclear industry at all times,â€ Elegba stated.
Nuclear facilities presently available in the country include a Nuclear Reactor, Gamma Irradiation Facility, Tandem Accelarator, Linear Accelerators, among others.
Elegba explained that the Authority has established a Radiological Emergency Plan and Response Centre, where all the efforts will be first to prevent loss of control, and to detect when that happens, and to respond by mitigating the consequence of that loss of control. Loss of control of radio-active sources can affect the public in general, including the workers and the environment.
â€œToday, no manufacturer can export radio-active sources from Nigeria without license from the NNRA. Even if it comes in through illicit trafficking, we’ve put at all the major entry points including seaports and airports, Radiation Portal Monitors (RPMs) that can detect such radio-active sources.
â€œAlso, in the case whereby it evades our RPMs at the entry points and enters the country, we have now a Radiological Emergency, which is fitted with detectors and GPRS-enabled security features, which can be monitored from our offices here, to detect the position or location and characterize the nature of such radio-active isothorpe, so that we can go in and remove it,â€ he said.
Elegba added that, â€œThe Halliburton incident, which caused embarrassment to our nation, happened because there were no radiation portal monitors, therefore the radio-active materials were able to be passed as scrap metal before the arrived Germany where they were arrested.â€
The NNRA boss further stressed that the Authority was complacent at its achievements, but was ready to enhance its regulatory efforts, especially in the area of wholesome detection and containment of radioactive sources in any part of the country.
He added that, â€œCurrently, Nigeria is at Level 4 of radiation monitoring, and we are working hard to attain Level 5 come next year, to be able to more efficiently track radio-active sources wherever they may be found in the country, using our GPRS and satellite equipment.â€
He explained that the Authority had signed Memoranda of Understanding with security agencies in the country, including the Nigeria Customs Service and other National Defence Organisations to include radioactive tracking training in their curricula, to enhance its First-Responder initiative for effective nuclear policing in the country.
He said, â€œWe are stepping up training of these First-Responder agencies on how to use radioactive sources, and we are equipping them with tools required to effectively carry out their function.â€
According to him, the country has no reason to halt its stride towards efficient use of clean nuclear energy, because of its efficiency and low maintenance value.
â€œNigeria is a major producer of oil, and the oil industry is the mainstay of our economy and if there is a restriction in the importation of radio-active materials, it will affect the nation’s economy because these oil and gas exploration companies make use of these materials in their activities.
â€œOther centres like specialist hospitals for cancer treatment and research agencies use some of these radiological materials in varying forms for their operations. It is therefore in our interest to make sure that the safety and security of radioactive sources is always maintained throughout its life-chain – from importation, use, storage, and exportation out of the country,â€ he added.