In the face of having a growing economy and the largest population in Africa, Nigeria’s power sector remains one of the poorest in Africa. Only a fraction of its population have access to grid-connected electricity and they experience multiple power outages. Nigeria’s current power generating capacity stands at 11 Gigawatts (GW) but only about 4 GW is generated. This inefficiency is blamed on a number of factors which include, gas supply, grid constraints and technical difficulties.
The Federal government has looked to alternative sources of energy like solar, wind and even nuclear energy to battle this inefficiency. In October last year, the government entered an agreement with ROSATOM, a Russian state-owned nuclear energy corporation. The agreement includes the construction of a nuclear power plant and research centre in Nigeria. The plant will be completed by mid-2020s and have a few others join it within five to ten years. The Nigerian Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC), which signed the memorandum of understanding with ROSATOM, expects four plants up and running by 2035; these plants will be generating 4.8 GW.
Nuclear energy in Nigeria is good news for the public but there are a few concerns. For one, the total cost of the project stands at $20 billion (about ₦7 trillion). To this, Mr Viktor Polikarpov- a vice president of ROSATOM-pointed at a general lack of information and myths on nuclear energy. He explicitly explained that while a nuclear power plant may be expensive to construct, it has low operating cost. Additionally, the average lifespan of a modern nuclear reactor is 60-80 years. In the long run, it is cheaper to deliver power from a nuclear plant than using fossil fuel. He also stated that the nation would be saving $14 billion on off-grid diesel consumption.
Mr Viktor Polikarpov also said that greenhouse emissions will be reduced, and a highly skilled workforce would be developed following this agreement. The resulting increase in the country’s generating capacity will boost its economy by making local businesses more sustainable and attracting foreign investors.
Another major concern borders on the dangers of nuclear waste, its health concerns and what would happen in the event of a meltdown. A meltdown occurs when severe overheating of the nuclear reactor leads to the melting of the reactor’s core. A meltdown can occur if there’s a defect in the cooling system of the reactor. If a meltdown occurs, a nuclear power plant will release radiation into the environment.
Exposure to radiation due to nuclear power accidents can have a negative effect on the human body. Being exposed to high amounts of radiation over a period of time, can damage body cells and lead to cancer. Exposure to an acute dose of high-levels of radiation would result in radiation sickness. Radiation sickness is an illness caused by exposure to a large dose of radiation over a short period of time. Symptoms may include skin burns, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, hair loss, general weakness and possibly death.
In addition to individual health concerns, there are also environmental health concerns associated with nuclear power generation. Nuclear power plants use water from local rivers for cooling. The water is used to dissipate heat, and the excess water used to cool the reactor is often released back into the waterway at very hot temperatures. This water can also be polluted with salts and heavy metals, and these high temperatures, along with water pollutants, can disrupt the life of fish and plants within the waterway.
Maintenance & Safety Concern
The Federal government’s “lack of maintenance” culture strengthens concerns on individual and environmental health. The Federal government has a track record of neglecting projects upon completion. Various roads across the country back this claim. The Federal government may not maintain these nuclear plants on completion, this is also a great concern. If the nuclear plant is allowed to deteriorate, the health concerns mentioned may become reality.
There is also a safety concern as groups like Boko Haram could target nuclear reactors with the purpose of releasing radioactive materials. Though this is highly unlikely, there is a slight possibility that this can occur. How secure the nuclear plant and its reactors will be is a question that must be answered.
It is encouraging that the Federal government is actively seeking to improve the power sector but a safer and more realistic alternative source of energy should be picked.