Recent activities have demonstrated, with no doubt, that the Kenyan government is committed to include nuclear power as part of its energy mix. This is encouraging news especially when the country keeps on experiencing chronic power outages.
However, as expected, any mention of nuclear power brings heated debate; and it has. Many of those opposed to nuclear never miss a chance to remind the world that nuclear has had three major incidents; Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and recently Fukushima.
While nuclear industry is generally safe, there are unique challenges facing each country with nuclear power plants or those intending to install them. Kenya being at the start of her nuclear programme will be no exception. There are a number of fundamental challenges that this country faces.
The biggest challenge for Kenya to overcome is financing. United Arab Emirates (UAE) is currently building four reactors at a cost of $20billion. A few months ago, the government of that country signed a loan worth $2billion for the first reactor with US-Exim Bank. The rest will be covered by the UAE government and a number of Korean venture capital firms.
Since Kenya is planning to build two reactors, it remains to be seen if it will be able to attract an investment or a line of credit of around $8billion. Another way of realising such a project is to use “Build-Operate-Transfer” model. This model has shortcomings when it comes to nuclear liability.
The second challenge is the lack of heavy and specialised engineering capability in Kenya. To be able to execute an US$8 billion project, Kenya requires a strong engineering industry. It is expected that most of the specialised components would be imported from original equipment manufacturers.
Human resources is the third challenge that Kenya will face. It is commendable that some individuals are being trained in different nuclear fields. The fourth challenge is for the country to embrace safety culture. Nuclear industry requires everyone to recognise that safety is paramount to any piece of work that is executed. However, there is a tendency in Kenya for people to view accidents as part of our lives.
These challenges are not insurmountable. However, it requires good planning, commitment and openness. The goals that are set for the country to have nuclear energy should also be realistic. Kenya has set herself onto a long journey towards nuclear power. We just need to walk cautiously and we eventually will get there.
The writer works with the largest nuclear power plant in Canada.