Tonye Princewill

April 6, 2012

Facing our nuclear future (2)

Facing our nuclear future (2)

South Korea’s President Lee Myung-Bak (L) greets Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan as he arrives for the welcoming ceremony for the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit at the Coex Center in Seoul on March 26, 2012. The two-day meeting in South Korea is a follow-up to an inaugural summit in Washington in 2010 hosted by US President Barack Obama, which kick-started efforts to lock up fissile material around the globe that could make thousands of bombs. AFP PHOTO

By Tonye Princewill
AS for South Africa, it not only operates two nuclear power reactors, but the African-American Environmentalist Association’s website says the energy company, Eskom, has also “been working on a 110-megawatt nuclear power plant design since 1993”.

According to South Africa.Info, the state-owned company plans to double its total generating capability over the next two decades “with nuclear power making up about half of the new capacity”. The first of South Africa’s new reactors could start generating electricity as early as 2016.

Australia doesn’t generate nuclear power. But it has a “world class” reactor, as a contributor to Business Spectator put it, which it uses for medical, scientific and weapons research. This reactor produces dangerous radioactive material, just as one for power generation would.

The editors’ strangest example though, is China. It is true that China presently uses coal to power most of its generating plants. But what The Punch didn’t tell its readers is that China has more nuclear power plants planned and/or under construction than any other country!

According to the World Nuclear Association, WNA, the country now operates 16 reactors, with 26 under construction. China’s planned 30 pebble-bed reactors are part of its top 16 strategic priorities for 2020–when it hopes to quadruple its output of nuclear sourced electricity.

What has misled a lot of anti-nuclear commentators (including The Punch) is the trend in public opinion, which is decidedly against nuclear power—especially after Fukushima. But the building of a nuclear power plant is a strategic industrial decision, which cannot always yield to public opinion.

Consequently, China’s nuclear power putsch is the wave-front of a surging industrial trend which the Fukushima meltdown is not likely to reverse. “I would remind you,” cautioned Lackey, that “the nuclear industry did not end after the accident in Fukushima…”.

Speaking to The Energy Report, Lackey noted that “construction on 65 plants around the world did not stop”. There are, he says, 200 nuclear reactors being installed, mainly in Asia and in South America.

Serge Novikov, a spokesman for Rosatom, a Russian firm created specifically to market nuclear power reactors, told FullerMoney.Com, an investment newsletter, that “we didn’t lose a single order after the Japanese Fukushima accident”.

In fact, Rosatom’s 2011 backlog of 11 international orders has increased to 21. Australia, the world’s largest exporter of uranium, has agreements with 39 countries. It was expecting a 21 percent rise in exports as of July 2011 and now plans to expand production by 15 percent each year, up to July 2016.

Thus, if anti-nuclear zealots are relying on the Fukushima mishap to stem the trend of atomic reactor construction, they may have a long wait. In fact, it could have the opposite effect. Fukushima may, in the long run, win support for nuclear generating plants.

It depends on the final damage assessment. So far, only five deaths and two missing persons can be linked to the reactors, which apparently did what they were designed to do. No radiation deaths have been recorded. But 21 workers were treated for minor, radiation-related illnesses.

It was the earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands of people, not the partial melt-down of the fuel rods. The quake knocked out the cooling system. The tsunami then flooded the reactor, short-circuiting its electrical wiring, so that the backup coolers couldn’t kick in.

Let me be very clear: Nuclear reactors are no toys. They are dangerous devices. Nor do I take lightly, the government’s decision to operate these types of machines. But in building a nation, we have to meet the challenges as they come. We cannot choose the easy ones and leave the others.

Actually, Nigeria is not the only African state that is awaking to the nuclear challenge. WNA’s review shows that 21 countries on this continent either have or are planning to construct a nuclear facility. Seven are in Black Africa—Nigeria, Namibia, Sudan, Ghana, Uganda, Senegal and Kenya.

Ghana’s decision to install a reactor must surely have inspired, in older residents of that country, a sense of déjà vu. In the early 1960s, the late Kwame Nkrumah, their first head of state, actually brought an atomic reactor to Ghana: And was roundly ridiculed, both at home and abroad.

There is, of course, an important lesson in this for our own leaders and policy makers. It is, simply, that while constructive criticism is an essential aspect of the democratic process, so too are decisive leaders with foresight and focus.

As a nation with industrial aspirations, Nigeria’s long-term energy future lies with hydrogen and nuclear fuels, rather than exotic “green” energy. True, the latter has more popular appeal. But that is hardly the criterion, for choosing an energy-system to meet our future domestic and industrial needs.

Dr. Osaisais, the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission and its newly appointed Board of Directors, should, therefore, forge ahead and face our energy future squarely and resolutely—undistracted by the catcalls of critics and the boos of cynics.