PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan and the relevant agencies set up to actualize Nigeria’s dream of becoming a “nuclear power” are excited that the national nuclear power programme has reached an advanced stage.
Nigeria and Russian had in June begun implementation of a nuclear power generation agreement signed in June 2009, to facilitate cooperation on the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Although President Jonathan at the opening of the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, the South Korean capital in March 2012, assured the global community that Nigeria would do everything possible to ensure that adequate safety measures were deployed when the country introduced nuclear power into its energy mix, the recent Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan has opened the eyes of the world to the dangers of nuclear power.
The development caused Japan to begin to reconsider its views on nuclear power, with Germany promising to end generating power from nuclear plants by 2022.
Advocates say nuclear power plants will help the country meet its targets of 10,000mw of electricity by the year 2020 and to increase it to 40,000 by 2030.
But critics are worried that the project will do the country more harm than good. They say the effect of radioactive substance cuts across both geography and politics, and if not properly managed, may compromise not only the lives of the present generation but also several generations yet unborn.
They say Nigeria should learn from the Japanese experience as well as from the worst nuclear accident in humankind history, the Ukrainian Chernobyl disaster of 1986, ranked seventh on International Nuclear Event Scale (INES).
The Ukrainian disaster was blamed on human error, when engineers testing the turbines of a reactor to see if they could produce more energy whenever there was power loss, caused a lethal explosion.
The Guardian learnt that the planned nuclear power plants are to be located in unnamed locations in Lagos, Ondo, Cross River and Adamawa states.
The Federal Executive Council in 2007 endorsed the National Nuclear Power Roadmap that consists of a three-phase technical framework developed by the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC).
The government in 2007 inaugurated a committee to identify sites for Nigeria’s first nuclear power plant. The committee was tasked to undertake detailed studies to characterize the geology, seismicity, soil properties, hydrology, meteorological parameters as well as nearness to the electricity grid. This, according to experts, is because many technical, environmental, security and social factors, which affect the selection of the site of a nuclear power plant, needed to be taken into consideration.
As an expert put it, “the possible impact of nuclear power plants on human settlements, population density, flora and fauna are important environment issues considered paramount in the siting of nuclear power plants besides safety, security and social issues.”
On March 11, 2011 a massive earthquake and tsunami left more than 20,000 people dead or missing in eastern Japan. The tsunami also hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, disabling cooling systems and leading to fuel meltdowns in three of the six units.
Since then, the world has been divided over the continued safety of nuclear as an option for electricity generation. Indeed, the importance of protecting Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs) from extreme natural hazards is now a priority for the nuclear power industry.
This week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is convening a special meeting of stakeholders to discuss technical developments and research programmes in site evaluation and nuclear plant safety, particularly as they relate to extreme natural hazards such as earthquake and tsunamis.
The meeting kicked-off in Vienna on Tuesday with over 120 experts and government officials from 37 countries, and sundry stakeholders.
Undeterred by the call in some quarters for the world to put the brake on nuclear power projects, the IAEA recently assured that nuclear power was far safer than it was a year ago as the nuclear industry, regulators and governments act on the lessons of Fukushima.
IAEA said it has developed a new methodology for assessing the safety vulnerabilities of nuclear power plants, which have already been used on an IAEA expert mission to review the approach taken by Japan in its own plant safety assessment.
A recent document from the international body noted: “The IAEA has stepped up its peer review services, incorporating lessons of Fukushima to help member states assess and reinforce nuclear safety, and has taken steps to improve coordination with operators...”
To address these issues the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NNRA) was set up by the Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Act No. 19 of 1995 with responsibility for nuclear safety and radiological protection regulation in Nigeria. The NNRA has as part of its mandate the responsibility to ensure protection of life, health, property and environment from harmful effects of ionizing radiation. The ACT further mandates the NNRA to provide training, information and guidance on nuclear safety and radiation protection in Nigeria.
To this end, the NNRA last week organised a one-day workshop for journalists - the third in the series - which enabled the NNRA and journalists to interact with each other on common areas of interest. It further exposed and challenged journalists to play a more catalytic role in educating the public on the activities of the NNRA especially on the implementation and enforcement of nuclear and radiation safety regulations.
Experts at the event included the Acting Director General/Chief Executive Officer of NNRA, Dr. Martin Ogharandukun, and the Director of Enforcement and Regulation at NNRA, Dr. Yau Idris.
Ogharandukun said: “Lack of adequate legal controls on materials or technology that may pose risks of radiological injury could be seen as a reason to withhold transfers or assistance that could result in damage or liability to the provider or to the international community as a whole.”
Drawing strength from the IAEA assurances, Nigeria is pressing on with its nuclear power project. The NNRA however assured that it has the capacity to regulate Nigeria’s nuclear power and insists that it would only license nuclear plants when international requirements for siting and safety were met.
The International Basic Safety Standards (BSS) for Protection against Ionizing Radiation and the Safety of Radiation Sources has defined the requirements that need to be met within a national infrastructure for radiation protection and safety.
And in preparation for the planned nuclear power plants, Nigeria has given affirmation to its commitment to the international safety, security and safeguards regime by signing and ratifying the seven relevant treaties and conventions.
This, officials say, has further demonstrated the country’s commitment to the safe operation of nuclear reactor.
The Federal Government is also awaiting the National Assembly’s final action on its draft Nuclear Safety, Security and Safeguards Bill to cap the regulatory powers of the NNRA.
Ogharandukun stressed that his organisation would ensure that standards are met in line with international protocol as Nigeria steps up its nuclear power programme.
Noting that Nigeria has successfully and safely operated a Nuclear Research Reactor (NIRR-1) at the Centre for Energy Research and Training, Zaria (CERT) since 2004, he stressed that the regulatory experience on the operation of the facility had demonstrated to the international community Nigeria’s ability to regulate a critical assembly and enhance the credibility of its bid for nuclear power plants
On the international protocols Nigeria has signed, he said: “By these instruments Nigeria voluntarily approves that the IAEA can send Nuclear Safeguards Inspectors to the country to verify the location, quantity and use of nuclear materials on any part of Nigerian jurisdiction and to ensure that such uses are for non-military purposes.”
Similarly, the NNRA has acquired a Mobile Vehicle Based Emergency Radiation System (MOVERS) for a timely radiological emergency response in Nigeria to enable it fulfill its statutory functions of ensuring protection of life, health, property and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation.
According to Ogharandukun, “the significance of acquiring MOVERS is that the NNRA can now take its radiological emergency response to far, rugged and remote corners because the system is mobile and can get to difficult terrains.”
He spoke further on the bill before the National Assembly: “Don’t forget that it is not only for the purpose of the nuclear plant. It is also because between 1995 till today, there are so many realities on ground. Due to our experiences in the applications, that expedited our response, including the ratification of the seven treaties. The treaties that we recently ratified made it necessary for us to review the bill.
“Other experiences that we had in the course of operating the law, including things like sanction for offenders, was also provided for in the reviewed act.”
He stressed that a nuclear power programme is a major undertaking requiring careful planning, preparation and a major investment in time and human resources.”
But the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) is worried about the insistence of the government to go ahead with its nuclear power programme.
Executive Director of the group, Nnimmo Bassey told The Guardian: “We cannot see the logic behind government’s support for a technology that former promoters in Europe and other technologically advanced nations are now putting their brakes on. What Nigeria needs now is investment in safe alternatives that will not harm the environment and the people.”
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