Energy security: Imperatives for the nuclear energy option

Nuclear powerOscarline Onwuemenyi

07 July 2013, Sweetcrude, Abuja – Energy self-sufficiency is imperative for the attainment of our national and regional developmental aspirations in comformity with the key objectives of the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). Empirically, there is a nexus between development and energy, both in terms of generation and consumption. This could be inferred from the fact that the gross domestic product (GDP) of a country, though dependent on a number of macroeconomic factors, is also principally dependent on a number of drivers including energy.

Further empirical correlation can between energy and development can be deduced from the per capita GDP and energy usage of some countries. The highly developed and industrialized countries with concomitant high per capita GDPs are also heavy consumers of primary energy. Generally, about 40 percent of all primary energy consumed is in the form of electricity, and modern manufacturing processes depend principally on electric power.

The Nigerian Energy Matrix

It is no gainsaying that the growth in demand for electricity in Nigeria has far exceeded supply for the past two decades due to a number of reasons including rapid population, growth characterized by high rate of formation of households, and increased level in the expansion of industrial activities engendered by higher productive capacities.

Other reasons adduced for the abysmal supply level are inadequate investment in the development and maintenance of electricity infrastructure, extended period of controlled monopoly of the electricity sector by government and its agencies, and undue emphasis on political consideration in the choice of the location of electrification projects rather than economic, technical and other social considerations, among others.

Presently, total installed grid capacity has stagnated around 6,000MW, comprising mainly of gas, oil and hydro of which less than 4,000MW is available at any time during this period. Indeed, for an estimated population of over 160 million people, the per capita electricity generation is about 30W, which is grossly inadequate. The significant use of stand-alone diesel-fired power generators is quite expensive and unsustainable.

A recent study by the Energy Commission of Nigeria estimated the projected demand based on the current energy usage, with an expected 10 percent industrial growth rate and population growth rate of about 3 percent to be in the range of 28,360MW to 31,240MW by 2015.

The optimal exploitation of an energy resource in any country depends on a number of variables, some of which may be local while others may international connotations. Chief among these variables are natural availability, economic viability, utilisation base of the energy form, technology infrastructure, strategic considerations and environmental impact, among others. Policy decisions will be based on optimizing all the contributing factors, bearing in mind the overriding national interests.

Policy should ensure sustainability in the context of the Brundtland Commission (World Commission on Environment and Development, WCED), defined in 1987 as “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Key Milestones

Bearing these in mind, the Federal Government of Nigeria has activated a Nuclear Power (NP) programme, and had approved the Roadmap for its implementation. The National Strategy for the Implementation of the approved NP programme has been finalized with the assistance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and it is envisaged that its meticulous implementation by the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC), in partnership with other relevant stakeholder institutions and international development partners.

Government has shown commitment by taking on the responsibility for infrastructure and manpower development to create the requisite enabling environment for the successful implementation of the programme in partnership with the private sector.

In readiness for the implementation of the programme, the Nigerian Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC) announced the selection of four sites across the country for the location of nuclear power plants, even as it stated that the first plant is expected to begin operation by the year 2020.

The Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of the NAEC, Dr. Eripamo Osaisai, who made the announcement recently at a lecture to the Nigerian Academy of Science, in Abuja, stated that the draft law for the implementation of the national nuclear power programme has been developed, and has been subjected to detailed scrutiny by all major stakeholders with technical input of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

He noted that following site survey and site evaluation exercises embarked upon by the Commission, four sites have been designated for further detailed characterization and recommendation to government. He said, “The sites are located in areas around Geregu/Ajaokuta Local Government Area of Kogi State in the North Central zone; Itu Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom state in the South –South zone; Agbaje, Okitipupa Local Government Area of Ondo State in the South West zone; and Lau Local Government Area of Taraba state in the North East zone.”

Osaisai pointed out that in the preliminary site survey and evaluation project, a number of technical, environmental, security, social and economic issues were investigated, adding that it was desirable that sites recommended for consideration should have capacity to accommodate multiple NPP units.

He explained that construction work on the nuclear power plants (NPPs) would commence between 2013 and 2014 with ‘first reinforced concrete’, while start of ‘first hot trial run’ would begin in 2017, with 2019 set for possible commissioning and handover of the power plants. According to him, a roadmap, tagged the ‘Technical Framework for the Deployment of Nuclear Power Plants for Electricity Generation in Nigeria’ and its ‘Strategic Implementation  Plan’ have been developed and approved by the Federal Government for implementation. He said, “The technical framework is a three-phase plan which is aimed at positioning Nigeria to generate electricity from Nuclear Power plants in 10 to 12 years, with considerable national participation.”

The various phases, he added, include manpower training and infrastructure development; design certification, regulatory and licensing approvals; and construction and start-up. “Currently, procedures for the licensing of nuclear power facilities are being developed by the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority; a draft regulation for the NPP site licensing has been developed and is being reviewed.”

The National Nuclear Power Roadmap developed and approved by the Federal Government for implementation envisages the nuclear power plants coming into operation by 2020. According to him, assurance of long-term energy security requires detailed energy planning which would entail analysis of the supply side, including available energy resources, exploitation strategies, and deployment schedules, as well as a realistic projection of energy demand over time. “This ordinarily would take due cognizance of physical and technical limitations to the harnessing of the respective energy resources, as well as conservation of resources and resource exploitation in harmony with the environment,” Osaisai added.

Rationale for Nuclear Power

An assessment of energy resources in the country was performed in April, 2004 by an Inter-Ministerial Committee which was set up to quantify all the major energy resources in the country. The study documented the various resources, their nature and extent of availability, estimated derivable electricity, current level exploitation, and business opportunities for each energy source.

The Committee’s report, submitted to Government in September 2004, identified, evaluated and ranked nine major energy sources. These were oil and gas, hydropower, nuclear, solar, coal, wind, biomass, hydrogen fuel cell, and wave and tidal. It recommended that in addition to current sources (oil, gas and hydro), national efforts should to harness nuclear and coal to diversify the national electricity generation base. Indeed, it further reasoned that excess revenues from the oil and gas sector can be invested now to develop and harness other energy resources for sustainable development. The big question, however, is how feasible is the nuclear energy option?

According to Osaisai, as at the end of 2009, there are about 450 Nuclear Power Plants (NPP) operating in more than 30 countries, which supplies about 16 percent of the global electricity. More than 30 new plants are under construction in different countries of the world. Majority of these plants are located in the industrialized countries including the United States, France, Russia, Sweden and South Korea. Quite a number of other emerging economies such as China, Brazil, India, Kuwait and Iran generate significant electricity from NPPs.

“In Africa, countries like South Africa, Egypt and Tunisia have already begun implementation of nuclear energy, with many planning to introduce it in order to meet their energy needs. As it stands now, there is a strong global nuclear renaissance for electricity generation, both in terms of expanding current capacity as well as introduction in some countries,” he noted.

He added that preliminary assessment has shown that with proper planning and structured implementation, Nigeria stands to gain much from exploiting nuclear energy resources. “As an emerging economy with limited infrastructure, Nigeria would only adopt an established nuclear power technology with a good track record and operation experience. Such a technology should be reasonably standardized, amenable to easy maintenance, with clearly defined vendor support programmes and suitability for eventual domestication,” he explained.

The NAEC boss pointed out that the inherent features of a nuclear power programme make it the most relevant and efficient energy generation technology for the country. He said, “It is a known fact that nuclear technology entails high initial cost and long construction period compared to other technologies. For this reason, it does not present immediate returns in financial investment, and it may be predisposed to cost overruns and construction delays in the environment of regulatory uncertainty. Therefore, long term government commitment and public support (in terms of political and policy stability) is required to actually get it off the ground and running.

“However, operating a nuclear power technology would in the long run be more beneficial as it entails low maintenance and operating costs, higher availability and capacity factors, and longer lifetime, with a plant lasting over 50 to 60 years. It also has least potential for contributing to climate change.”

Osaisai added that due to the need to secure nuclear material, nuclear projects must be committed to an international regime of oversight and governed by one standard of safety, security and safeguards and international treaties and conventions. “There is a constant subjection of Nuclear power projects to rigorous international security and safety instruments towards ensuring the highest safety standards, as well as insurance and physical security. This fact underlines the absolute need for a highly effective and responsive regulatory and management system, which NAEC and other agencies have been doing.

“The Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission is the focal agency of the Federal Government of Nigeria to develop and deploy nuclear technology for national socioeconomic development with full commitment to nuclear safety, security and safeguards. To actualize this, NAEC is partnering with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure that the mandate is achieved with international best practices,” he said.

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