As far as getting a country’s priorities right is concerned, Kenya’s plan to build East Africa’s first nuclear plant is puzzling.
Here is a country that is already tottering on towards a public finance apocalypse whose roots lie in the heavy borrowing that has occurred in the past four years.
But some bureaucrats are still talking of spending Sh500 billion in the next five years in the pursuit of nuclear energy – averaging Sh100 billion a year.
Consider that this quest for nuclear energy with all its security and environmental risks is happening at a time the whole world is moving towards anchoring their energy needs on clean and renewable resources.
More recently, because of the huge investments in geothermal power, more than 70 per cent of Kenya’s electricity is now generated from clean sources.
The urgency and scale of the planned investment in nuclear power also makes little sense. Kenya now has a standing generation capacity of 2,300 megawatts against peak demand of 1,600 megawatts.
With Kenya’s geothermal potential estimated to be at about 10,000MW, rational thinking would demand that the billions of shillings planned for nuclear power would be invested in the clean sources.
Actually, what Kenya needs to tackle urgently and on a large scale is the recent de-industrialisation that has decimated nearly half of the manufacturing sector – against the backdrop of massive and rising mass unemployment.
With the small and nearly stagnant manufacturing sector, there is little justification at this point to generate an extra 4,000 MW, costing as much as Sh2 trillion, which is equivalent to a third of the gross domestic product in 2015.
The other major priority area that the State can invest is in transmission of power. Recent power blackouts have been associated with transmission hitches rather than scarcity or underproduction, which points to the need to rectify this situation.
Credit must be given that there have been thousands of new connections, but that could precisely be the reason the transmission system is overloaded and requires improvements.
Most importantly, Kenya needs to look into the safety and security issues around nuclear power.
The country must ask itself whether it has the capacity to deal with the complex and delicate issues surrounding the security of nuclear plants.
Only then will this bullishness about nuclear energy make sense.