Columnists

Why Kenya needs the nuclear power and energy agency

col3-pic

The nuclear powerplant Gundremmingen is pictured in Gundremmingen, southern Germany on February 26, 2021. PHOTO | AFP

Summary

  • Already the Nuclear Regulatory Act 2019 is in place, which subsequently necessitates the formation of an independent National Nuclear Regulator.
  • In order to bridge the gap between initial consideration of nuclear power and actual integration of the technology, adequate and comprehensive preparatory work is required.

The steering committee on the implementation of the Presidential Task Force on Review of Power Purchase Agreements has been directed to ensure a complete turnaround of the electricity sector.

With Cabinet Sub-Committee on Energy providing oversight several teams have been established to spearhead the different components for execution actions as envisaged in the implementation Report.

Notably, the recommendation by the task force led by John Ngumi suggests the dissolution of the Nuclear Power & Energy Agency(Nu-PEA), citing the country's least-cost Power Development Plan (LCPDP).

It puts the prospects for the first nuclear power plant around 2037.

In the nuclear industry, the terrain is slightly different, in as much as a nation may not require Nuclear power plants at the present time. As long as it anticipates to have the technology at a given point in future off-course as informed through the energy planning process, the questions of preparations become ineluctable.

Not only is the nuclear industry inordinately capital intensive but highly regulated, which includes the involvement of international entities such as the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA).

The Energy Petroleum Regulatory Authority(EPRA), for instance, retains regulatory control over the energy sector as a whole with the exception of licensing of nuclear facilities.

Already the Nuclear Regulatory Act 2019 is in place, which subsequently necessitates the formation of an independent National Nuclear Regulator, in this case, the Kenya Nuclear Regulatory Authority.

The IAEA requires a country to adopt a three milestone phased approach if it intends to have nuclear power as part of its energy mix. In phase 1 of the first mile-stone approach for instance which is where Kenya currently is, the country is required to make a knowledgeable commitment to a nuclear power programme (or to decide not to proceed).

Therefore in order to bridge the gap between initial consideration of nuclear power and actual integration of the technology, adequate and comprehensive preparatory work is required.

NuPEA was established and mandated to prepare a preliminary roadmap for nuclear infrastructure development technology to be adopted in the future. This includes institutes appropriate awareness methods and procedures for informing and consulting the public and other interested parties about all aspects of nuclear power inclusive of the safety, health and environmental aspects of regulated activities including incidents, accidents and abnormal occurrences.

One of the most critical aspects of the nuclear power industry is public acceptance, thus the need for continued engagement with all other stakeholders which comprises civic education, capacity building and development especially now that as a nation we are closely navigating towards realisation of the 2nd phase.

To therefore assume that these mandates can be undertaken by a unit called a department embedded in the ministry is ill-thought-out.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, it would take not less than 15 years for a country to fulfil requirements and demonstrate preparedness in all three mile-stone approaches. It, therefore, is all about enhanced mission readiness in the nuclear industry and this would essentially call for a semi-autonomous entity.

Secondly, the rather unhelpful debate about Kenya having more electricity than it needs and won't require any more for the foreseeable future is somewhat convoluted. It's unjustified and equally unsubstantiated. Vision 2030 Delivery Secretariat paints a clear picture of the roadmap Kenya is undertaking towards realisation of our aspirations.

According to the secretariat by the time we attain a middle income, industrialised and competitive economy, our country will have an electricity demand in the regions of 19,000 MW. And looking at how the country is taking shape in terms of infrastructural arrangements and key flag-ships projects under-way.

From huge investments covering maritime and highways to establishments of Dongo-kungu special economic zone to massive additional road networks. From the resuscitation of the meter-gauge railway to mass transit facilities across the country, it's clear that more energy to drive the economy will be required.

But most fundamentally the world is evolving and with the advent of energy internet and Smart-grid that encompass among them smart-city concepts, the internet of things, high-level factory automation and robotics. Kenya is making impressive progress in this revolution.

Particularly going by the continued works at Konza -city. These endevours are clearly indicative that in the next 2 decades electricity demand will have grown more than five folds.

Conversely, the electric potential of our energy sources reveals an interesting outlook. Publications from the ministry of energy indicate geothermal power which is our main base-load power has a potential of 10,000 MW, Hydropower which has been a traditional source is around 6,000 MW notwithstanding the challenges associated with weather vagaries.

The Solar and Wind Energy Resource Assessment (SWERA) together with the wind sectors prospectus puts the potential for solar and wind in the country at 6,0000 MW.

This analysis, therefore, puts nuclear an imperative argument hence the need for a fully-fledged stand-alone entity with complete dedicated specialised resource persons and budget lines.