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Nigeria and quest for nuclear power energy in the 21st Century

By Abdullahi U. Maiyaki

BACKGROUND: Basically, it is rational and to some extent conventional for any perceived controversial policy initiative to be subjected to rigorous studies, critical, objective and in-depth analysis by experts in various fields of human endeavour in order to facilitate a smooth take-off and sustainability generally.

Consequently, the ongoing aspiration by Nigeria since 1976 for a nuclear powered energy plant for the country which has been generating controversy requires analytical perspectives in order to examine both the advantages and the dangers it entails.

The hosting recently of a public lecture by the NIIA entitled “Energy Security and Sustainable National Development: The Case of Nigeria’s Nuclear Power Programme”, delivered by a nuclear scientist and the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Atomic Energy Commission, Dr. Franklin Eresamo Osaisai in Lagos on Thursday,  October 4, 2012 presented not only the scientific/theoretical perspectives but equally the nation’s nuclear powered energy direction to the delight of the audience and the skepticism of others. That the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs organized such an event, described as timely and strategic on a critical policy matter of nuclear powered, energy is not only thoughtful but commendable.

Accordingly, the policy paper shall strive to examine the complexities of nuclear powered energy in general and the politics associated within at the international arena to see whatever lessons Nigeria can borrow to avert controversy.

Consequently, the paper shall undertake a preview of issues of nuclear power technology as observed by analysts in the field and proceed further to examine the architecture of nuclear power plants accidents/disasters in recent history in order for the Nigerian public and policy makers comprehend the gravity of the tasks ahead the nation, in its quest for Nuclear powered energy in the 21st century and the need for serious policy re-think.

Observations by nuclear analysts of the dangers ahead: Basically, nuclear analysts in recent time have raised serious concern over issues of energy crisis and nuclear power especially the vulnerability and the costly nature of nuclear power technology. A graphic picture is hereby extracted for public comprehension and analysis.

These are:

(i) “The world has since lost over $1,000 billion in subsidies, cash losses, abandoned projects and other damage from nuclear power;

(ii) Decontaminating Fukushima alone is estimated to cost $623 billion not counting treatment costs for thousands of likely cancers;

(iii) Over world’s 400-odd reactors worldwide can undergo catastrophic accidents, will remain a liability until decommissioned (entombed in concrete) at huge public expense-one third to one-half of the cost of building them;

(iv) They will have to leave behind nuclear waste, which remains hazardous for thousands of years, and which science has no way of storing safety.

(v) Consequently, nuclear analysts concluded that nuclear power has declined on its home ground because it became too risky and too costly to hook to a metter”.

(Source: “Energy Crisis and Nuclear Power” written by Praful Bidwai, March 21, 2012, accessed from the internet)

In a related development, nuclear analysts opined that “nuclear power is bound up with secrecy, deception and opacity, which clash with democracy. It evokes fear, loathing and can only be promoted by force while violating civil liberties”. They revealed that “nuclear reactors are high-pressure, high-temperature systems, in which a vision chain reaction is barely checked from getting out of control”.

But “such controls can fail for many reasons, including short and circuits faulty valves, operator error, fire, earth-quake or tsunamis”. Consequently, due to such precarious situations which do not provide 100 percent safety, nuclear analysts concede that, “such high risk technologies require a meticulous, self-critical and highly alert safety culture”, to which it lamented most countries lack.

History of nuclear power accidents/disasters: A brief preview of the most recent nuclear power related accidents/disasters in history should further educates the public of the precarious nature of nuclear power energy technology to serve as a safeguard – against similar incident.

Fukushima nuclear accident of March 11, 2011 in Japan: This accident is said to have been caused by a major earthquake, a 15-metre tsunami which disabled the power supply and cooling networks of the three Fukushima Dalichi reactors, resulting to the accident witnessed in the first three days.

Another account to the accident has it that, the Fukushima nuclear disaster was caused largely by high radioactive releases in the first few days, rated as the 7th most International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) in the present world order. (Source: “Fukushima Accidents 2011” accessed from the internet on info/fukushima-accident-int129.htmi) p1

Goiania nuclear accident of September 13, 1987 in Brazil: This nuclear accident is said to have been caused by a Brazilian Junkyard dealer in Goiania, when he broke open an abandoned radiation therapy machine and removed a small highly radioactive cake of cesium chloride.

It is reported that the environment and surrounding were seriously contaminated. While more than 240 people were said to have been exposed to radiation, whereas 4 died, many children who got attracted to the bright blue of the radioactive materials, were reported to have touched it and rubbed in on their skin.

Chernoby1 nuclear disaster of April 26, 1986 in Ukraine: The Chernoby1 disaster occurred at the Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukrainia SSR (now Ukraine). The accident is said to have taken place when there was a sudden power output surge, and when an emergency shutdown was attempted, a more extreme spike in power output was reported to have occurred.

This led to a reactor vessel rupture which caused a series of explosions. Belarus, Russia and Ukraine were noted to be seriously affected with about 60 per cent of the fallout landing in Belarus. From 1986 when the accident occurred to year 2000, 350,000 people were said to have been evacuated and resettled from the most contaminated areas of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine respectively.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated the number of death to 4000, whereas the Green Peace report puts the figure at 200,000 or more. The WHO is said to have further disclosed that the radiation released from the Chernoby1 accident was 200 times more than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs combined. (Source: “10 Worst Nuclear Accident/Disaster in History” accessed from the internet on http://www.smashinglists.come/most-nuclear-accident-disaster-in-history).

Soviet Submarine K431 Nuclear Accident of August 10, 1985: The Echo II class Soviet Submarine K431 nuclear accident is said to have resulted to a massive explosion during refueling in Vladivostok, Russia on August 10th, 1985. The explosion is reported to have produced a radioactive cloud of gas into the air. Ten sailors were killed in the accident while 49 people were said to have shown radiation injuries with 10 developing radiation sickness. More than 2000 were said to have been involved in the cleanup operations, while 290 reported to be exposed to high levels of radiation compared to normal stand. (Source: 10 worst Nuclear Accidents/Disasters, Ibid) p.9

Three Mile Island nuclear accident of March 28, 1979 in the United States of America: This nuclear accident is said to have been caused by a nuclear meltdown of one secondary 100p, which is said to have released 13 million curies as radioactive gasses into the atmosphere and causes a loss of $2,400. However, there was neither death nor injuries recorded (Source: 10 most nuclear accidents/Disasters in History.”

Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki World War II, 1945

These nuclear disasters were said not to be on accidents but an ugly example of human wrath and violence. It was reported to be a result of the war between two big powers of the world. During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States is said to have conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. The first on August 6, 1945 and the second on August 9, 1945 respectively.

This nuclear disaster was reported to have caused innumerable deaths and serious physical, emotional and genetic problems, faced by many generations of Japanese. A study states that from 1950 to years 2000, 45 per cent of leukemia deaths and 11 per cent of solid cancer deaths among bomb survivors were due to radiation from the atomic bombs. (Source: “10 Worst Nuclear Accidents/Disasters in History” Ibid, P.13&14).

Mallam Abdullahi U. Maiyaki is of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA),Lagos.


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