Nuclear energy ambitions good

Kenya heavily relies on hydropower for her energy needs and is exploring nuclear power to meet growing demand. Photo/ FILE
Kenya heavily relies on hydropower for her energy needs and is exploring nuclear power to meet growing demand. Photo/ FILE 

Over the last few weeks the government has taken some serious steps towards introducing nuclear power into the country by appointing a committee on the nuclear project programme.

This is a positive step that needs support from everyone who has understands the link between economic growth and sustainable and reliable sources of electricity.

There will be a lot of resistance from the general public who have been led to believe that nuclear power is dangerous and has no place in the society.

Every debate tends to recall the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 in the former Soviet Union, which killed 28 people during the day of the accident.

Close to 30 more people died between 1987 and 2007. There have been some claims that about 2,000 people might have died due cancer related illnesses attributed to the accident.

Let me introduce a scenario in which a company would like to introduce a chemical plant to produce pesticides in Kenya. I believe that everyone would welcome the idea with open arms.

However, two years before the Chernobyl accident, another disaster occurred in India.

An accident at a pesticide manufacturing plant in Bhopal killed 3,500 people on the day of the accident. The total number of victims is estimated to be 15,000.

While Chernobyl is the only serious accident to have affected a nuclear power plant, chemical and petro-chemicals continue to cause fatalities.

For example, the recent Horizon Deepwater Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Texaco Oil refinery disaster in 2005.

This comparison is by no means a way to justify deaths in one industry over another, but a way to illustrate how one industry has been vilified due to bias perception of the actual risk.

The benefits of nuclear energy have been overshadowed by an accident that occurred more than 20 years ago.

The nuclear industry learnt a lot from this event and it resulted to international scrutiny of all nuclear power plants.

The industry would not like to take another chance because an accident in one plant damages the whole industry.

Kenya should be aware of this fact as it seeks to establish a nuclear power plant.

A target date of 2017 has been set for commissioning of the first reactor.

However, we have no supporting infrastructure to support an additional 1,000 MW on the grid e.g. the transmission capacity and the ratio of each reactor’s capacity to the total electricity produced in the country.

We also have not started developing the human resources to support a plant.

I totally support the idea of nuclear power in Kenya, but my desire is to see the country pursue the path of nuclear power cautiously and adhere strictly to the guidelines laid down but the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

It is the only way we will be welcomed happily in the club of nuclear power producers.

The first and primary responsibility of the committee should be to recognise all the commitments and obligations associated with nuclear power within the national and international arena.

One of the first tasks would be to establish a legal framework covering all the aspects of peaceful use of civil nuclear.

Location of the plant and other technical specifications are secondary phases.

Dr Kariuki is a reactor safety engineer at a leading Canadian nuclear power plant. [email protected]