The energy needs for Africa but more specifically Kenya and the Eastern African region are enormous. More often than not when we hear the mention of the word nuclear, some quickly associate it with weapons of mass destruction.
We often quote the memories of 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan nuclear bombs dropped by the US, the Chernobyl accident of 1986 in Ukraine and more recently in February 2011 during the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear fallout in Japan. However, we should appreciate the world is full of risks.
How we address commitment to progress can never be measured by dominance of fear, but through human ingenuity to manage events that confront us.
That is why Americans and Russians have built satellite stations in space with all the attendant risks.
Today the spin-off benefits from the knowledge being acquired by these two most technologically advanced nations cannot be second guessed.
For instance, predicting weather conditions has been made into an exact science, courtesy of the satellite data gathering capabilities.
Hence nuclear technology should need deeper consideration. Post the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombing, there emerged a new dispensation of thought and practice when, in 1953, then US President General Dwight David Eisenhower addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations, giving his famous “Atom for Peace” speech.
This subsequently led to the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. As part of the UN system, the IAEA today serves as the world’s foremost intergovernmental forum for scientific and technical co-operation in the peaceful uses of nuclear technology.
Under article XI of the IAEA charter, it provides for international cooperation where the Agency is actively involved in support of member states of the UN who aspire and demonstrate the need for peaceful application of nuclear for research and development, mining, agriculture, hydrology, medicine, diagnostic research and in the generation of electric power among others.
The challenges of nuclear are usually in five areas: Safety, security, safeguard reservations, public health and the environment.
Arising from General Eisenhower’s declaration, new thinking emerged on how such tremendous energy can be harnessed in the development and advancement of humankind in power generation to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. France in particular generates its electricity needs of between 78-80 per cent from nuclear powered plants that have stringent safety measures.
In most of Eastern Africa, there is an uphill task to achieve development because of what is called “base load technology”, meaning reliable, uninterrupted power supply throughout the year.
This is critical in driving the economy with little or no negative environmental impact, besides other pressing needs.
A common denominator for most countries in the region is that we do not have sufficient capacities to produce enough goods and services to respond to the ever-growing needs of the population.
The major missing link is reliable, cost-effective power supply. It is true we have other energy mixes such as hydro, thermal, coal, solar, wind, biogas and biofuel power.
Unfortunately, these sources cannot guarantee the base load technology to efficiently run our industries.
For instance, Kenyans are rightfully celebrating the introduction of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) but we cannot in the 21st Century be content with diesel operated trains.
We must electrify the SGR, whose power demands are between 3,000 and 3,500 MW, according to experts. This will not only help build a world-class economy and transport system but is also ecofriendly. This is a sharp contrast to our installed power supply of about 2,700 MW with present peak demand of 1,650 MW for a country with a population of approximately 45 million people and growing.
The implication is that our per capita consumption of power supply is so low that the talk of industrialisation is truly a mirage when the principal component for driving the economy is energy — and we don’t have enough of it.
The other important aspect of nuclear is any country that adapts the technology has achieved tremendous transformation.
A shining example that Kenya can learn from is South Korea, whose size is just 100,210 Sq km, with a population slightly over 51.2 million and an economy in excess of US$1.411 trillion and installed power of about 90,000 MW — a substantial percentage of it being nuclear generated.
The reason for those of us who advocate nuclear technology, besides environmentally friendly power generation, is that its mastery by any nation means greater capability in enhancing science and technology and mainstreaming of a culture of innovation and creativity.
I look forward to Kenyans to deliberately and consciously embrace nuclear for peaceful purposes as a strategy to move to the next frontier.
That’s why I am hopeful that an informed debate can be generated not only among the academia, policy makers, and legislators but also among ordinary Kenyans.