Nu­clear power negates hope for pros­per­ity

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - OPINION -

The Bill pro­vid­ing for the Kenya Nu­clear Elec­tric­ity Board (Kneb) re­ceived Cab­i­net ap­proval a few weeks ago, set­ting the coun­try on a path to de­vel­op­ing a 1,000-megawatt nu­clear power plant in Lake Vic­to­ria, Lake Turkana or Coast re­gions.

The rea­son for con­sid­er­ing th­ese three lo­ca­tions rests on the premise that power plants fu­elled by coal, nat­u­ral gas, oil and nu­clear fis­sion boil wa­ter to pro­duce steam, which turns a tur­bine to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity.

Nu­clear power gen­er­a­tion is the most wa­ter-in­ten­sive fuel op­tion. While cool­ing sys­tems ac­count for the vast amount of wa­ter, fuel ex­trac­tion and re­fin­ing af­fect wa­ter sources. Ura­nium fuel ex­trac­tion, for ex­am­ple, re­quires a sub­stan­tial amount. Ura­nium min­ing also con­tam­i­nates sur­face and ground­wa­ter sources.

De­vel­op­ing nu­clear power plants will add pres­sure to the con­strained wa­ter re­sources in Kenya, caused mainly by years of re­cur­rent droughts and a sharp in­crease in de­mand re­sult­ing from a high pop­u­la­tion growth. Thou­sands do not have ac­cess to clean, safe and ad­e­quate wa­ter. Lack of rain­fall also af­fects the abil­ity to ac­quire food and has led to vi­o­lence in some parts of the coun­try.

Nu­clear en­ergy is the most ex­pen­sive way to pro­duce elec­tric­ity, lead­ing to it of­ten be­ing de­scribed as “the most ex­pen­sive way to boil wa­ter”.

For Kenya to achieve its pros­per­ity dreams, there is a need to adopt en­ergy pro­duc­tion op­tions that will stim­u­late man­u­fac­tur­ing. Nu­clear power pro­duc­tion will in­crease the al­ready soar­ing en­ergy prices and drive in­vestors away. The cost of prod­ucts will in­crease fur­ther, af­fect­ing the qual­ity of life and liveli­hoods of Kenyans.

Risk of ac­ci­dents

Nu­clear power plants pose a sub­stan­tial risk of ac­ci­dents. With Kenya’s poor dis­as­ter man­age­ment cre­den­tials, no in­surer will be keen to cover a nu­clear power plant in the coun­try. This leaves the gov­ern­ment and the tax­pay­ers to shoul­der the risk.

A ma­jor nu­clear ac­ci­dent could cost tril­lions of shillings. The Ch­er­nobyl dis­as­ter in Ukraine, for in­stance, was es­ti­mated to have cost more than Sh23 tril­lion. One such ac­ci­dent would wreck Kenya’s econ­omy. Kenya is, sur­pris­ingly, pur­su­ing en­ergy pro­duc­tion tech­nolo­gies — coal and nu­clear — that have been sur­passed by the ex­pan­sion of re­new­able en­ergy tech­nolo­gies such as wind and so­lar. More shock­ing, the coun­try has a huge po­ten­tial for wind and so­lar power, which would in­crease its en­ergy in­de­pen­dence at a lower cost.

But in­stead of in­creas­ing its so­lar and wind power projects, Kenya is in­vest­ing in out­dated, dirty and costly en­ergy op­tions such as coal and nu­clear.

For a coun­try where solid waste man­age­ment is a big prob­lem, ra­dioac­tive waste from a nu­clear power plant will pose a mas­sive chal­lenge. With the im­mense ter­ror­ist threats, its nu­clear re­ac­tors would also be vul­ner­a­ble to at­tacks. This puts cit­i­zens’ safety at stake.

Re­new­able en­ergy pro­vides many op­por­tu­ni­ties to mit­i­gate the ef­fects of cli­mate change, at­tain en­ergy in­de­pen­dence and safe­guard the en­vi­ron­ment. How­ever, in­vest­ing in nu­clear en­ergy is bet­ting on dis­as­ter.

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