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Nuclear Power Project: Nigeria in Voodoo Agreement

 

“We are miffed that a cooperation agreement on this dangerous experiment has been reached despite the aversion of Nigerians to the nuclear option for generating power. We reject it and refuse to be led into a radioactive misadventure that western countries that hitherto experimented are weaning themselves off and exploring safe renewable,” Dr Godwin Ojo, Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action (ERA) said in a statement recently.

 

An African adage says that a dying dog first loses its sense of smell before actually dies is what environment activists are jointly saying.

 

Introduction

The government of Nigeria has on 30th May, 2016 brokered the first rocket science based deal with Rosatom of Russia at VIII International Forum ATOMEXPO 2016 which held May 30-June 1, 2016 in Moscow to begin construction of four nuclear power plants in Nigeria soon. Information made available to Journalist Initiative for Sustainable Environment (JISE) indicated that the agreement actually took place at sidelines while at the forum.

 

Working Principles

The principles under which nuclear power plants work have not been made public to Nigerians however, according to various online publications in which JISE concentrated on one, in a nuclear plant construction, atoms are constructed like miniature solar systems. At the center of the atom is the nucleus; orbiting around it are electrons.

The nucleus is composed of protons and neutrons, very densely packed together. Hydrogen, the lightest element, has one proton; the heaviest natural element, uranium, has 92 protons.

During fission, a neutron bombards a uranium atom, releasing more neutrons and triggering a chain reaction. The reason why whenever there is nuclear accident, it is always almost difficult to control.

The nucleus of an atom is held together with great force, the "strongest force in nature." When bombarded with a neutron, it can be split apart, a process called fission. Because uranium atoms are so large, the atomic force that binds it together is relatively weak, making uranium good for fission.

In nuclear power plants, neutrons collide with uranium atoms, splitting them. This split releases neutrons from the uranium that in turn collide with other atoms, causing a chain reaction. This chain reaction is controlled with "control rods" that absorb neutrons.

In the core of nuclear reactors, the fission of uranium atoms releases energy that heats water to about 520 degrees Farenheit. This hot water is then used to spin turbines that are connected to generators, producing electricity, see http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear-power/nuclear-power-technology/how-nu....

 

Publicity

According to a US based Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), proper publicity or awareness creation is mandatory if at all nuclear plant must be constructed even though PSR strongly advocates for alternative energy sources and not nuclear power construction anywhere in the world. Nigerian government has chosen to conduct this deal with low publicity and without wide consultations on pros and cons of this direction of investment. It was discovered after some level of efforts that Kogi and Akwa Ibom states will host the said plants. The four plants would probably be the answer Nigerians are looking for in energy crisis that has been hitting Nigeria perpetually and so a wonderful selling point for the current administration but rather the government, that has a good image laundering minister has chosen to be silent over this feat. I think this is very worrisome. Although Mr Raji Fashola, Minister of Power feels Nigeria is ripe to switch over to nuclear power solution after 17 years of research into it, the Minister also failed to ask in details how comfortable advanced nations that are running nuclear power plants are.

 

Safety Concerns

Fashola is comfortable that having produced 25 graduates at masters certification level by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Nigeria could take a deep dive into the world of nuclear power production. On the other side of safety debate is the US based Green Peace saying that with so many professors of atomic energy in the US, nuclear power management has been painful. “Nuclear energy has no place in a safe, clean, sustainable future. Nuclear energy is both expensive and dangerous. And just because nuclear pollution is invisible doesn’t mean it’s clean. Renewable energy is better for the environment, the economy, and doesn’t come with the risk of a nuclear meltdown”, Green Peace said in its website. Also Bernard Cohen Sc.D, Professor at University of Pittsburgh said that the principal risks associated with nuclear power arise from health effects of radiation. According to him, this radiation consists of subatomic particles traveling at or near the velocity of light---186,000 miles per second. They can penetrate deep inside the human body where they can damage biological cells and thereby initiate a cancer. If they strike sex cells, they can cause genetic diseases in progeny. 

With the level of technological advancement in Nigeria, could the nation manage a case of this nature that has outwitted its inventors?

One major problem of nuclear plants everywhere in the world has been how to manage the waste generated in the cause of running the plants. The US currently generates about 2000 metric tonnes of radioactive waste according to Union of Concerned Scientists USA (UCSUSA). In the meantime, US has as at 2011 generated 67,000 tonnes of highly radioactive waste it does not know how to dispose. UCSUSA said that the US Department of Energy (DOE) has been researching on how to dispose this waste. “Since then, the Department of Energy has been studying storage sites for long-term burial of the waste, especially at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Under the guise of research, DOE has built a full-scale system of tunnels into the mountain at a cost of over $5 billion. Although Yucca Mountain has yet to be officially chosen, there are no other sites being considered, UCSUSA said.

 

Cost Implications

It was gathered that Rosatom would source its money to construct the plants and run to recover their money and hand over to Nigeria. Currently it was estimated that the cost would be at least $80 billion at an average cost of $20 billion per plant. Although the type of plant to be constructed has not been put to the public domain, the cost Nigeria is so much concentrated on now is the construction cost and not the multiplier effects which bother much on health cost. With radioactive rays and waves travelling at almost the speed of light, the nation should be prepared for escalation in number of cancer cases and other health related issues.

“First, cost overruns revealed the true cost of nuclear plants. Once utilities began building the plants as their own projects, their lack of experience with the technology, the use of unique designs for every plant, and a "build in anticipation of design" approach led to enormous cost overruns,” UCSUSA said. Buttressing this argument, UCSUSA further demonstrates that because construction took years to complete, utilities found themselves with huge amounts of money invested in a plant before any problems developed. Cincinnati Gas and Electric, for example, went into debt by $716 million to build its Zimmer nuclear power plant, some 90 percent of the utility's net worth. Yet the utility canceled construction of the plant in 1983.

Another cost that should be considered is the fact that nuclear plants are object of modern terrorism and hide out for production of weapons of mass destruction.

  

 

Who is Rosatom

Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom), is a state corporation (non-profit organization) in Russia, established in 2007, the regulatory body of the Russian nuclear complex. It is headquartered in Moscow. Rosatom is the only vendor in the world able to offer the nuclear industry’s entire range of products and services. It runs all nuclear assets of the Russian Federation, both civil and weapons.

According to Green Peace Netherland, Rosatom has also made name in controversial issues including fraud related cases. “Rosatom, the state nuclear corporation of Russia, is actively pursuing expansion domestically and abroad, despite the decline of the nuclear industry globally. Rosatom is a questionable business partner, plagued by concerns over corruption, the safety and quality control standards of its nuclear reactors, its competence at building and operating nuclear plants, its model for financing projects, and concerns over its ability to complete construction on time and on budget…”,are contained at the first paragraph of the executive summary of a Green Peace publication on Rosatom in 2014 entitled Rosatom Risks-Exposing the Troubled History of Russia’s State Nuclear Corporation. In 2011, Russia discovered a fraud and detained Yevgeny Yevstratov, a former deputy chief of Rosatom on suspicion of fraud and embezzlement, the Interior Ministry’s economic security department said. Yevstratov, who oversaw nuclear safety at the company between December 2007 and April that year, was accused of embezzling 110 million rubles ($3.9 million) in state funds, the ministry said on its website  according to Bloomberg. Also in 2014, another fraud was exposed at the Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation. The investigator said personnel of Rosatom's daughter company Gidropress, together with the administration of Siemens Russia had stolen more than 50 million roubles allocated for the development of equipment for nuclear reactors. The Interior Ministry's press service reported that the projects which the German concern had to implement under contract had actually been handled by Belgorod students. According to the investigator, in 2010-2011, top manager of Siemens Industry Software /an affiliate of Siemens AG/ Anatoly Suzdaltsev and the company's deputy director general Ilya Lavrenev concluded several contracts worth over 50 million roubles with Rosatom's daughter company Gidropress through PILIM-SFERA, a dummy firm they had set up, the Novye Izvestia wrote quoting Russia News Agency.

 

Build-Own-Operate (BOO)

According to extracts of information JISE gathered, Rosatom has already offered to build the $80 billion nuclear plants in Nigeria without Nigeria involving any investment other than to provide Rosatom with the cites for the plants construction. This is wonderful and already Nigeria is feeling honoured by such a gesture-at least employment would be generated for Nigerians.  A closer look reveals that it is a traditional system of Rosatom’s expanding programme. According to Green Peace, this is worst form of business partnership that has occurred in the history of man to many nations that have signed pact on nuclear plant constructions with Rosatom. “Although Rosatom has recently broadened its foreign portfolio by bidding on projects in well-established nuclear states, at the heart of its expansion dream is its new business model of “Build-Own-Operate” (BOO).

Under this model, Rosatom offers to attend to all aspects of construction and operation of a nuclear project. Theoretically, this model would allow a nation to become a nuclear state even though it has little to no knowledge and infrastructure in place to support operation and oversight of a nuclear reactor.

Close examination of Rosatom’s track record shows the Build-Own-Operate model is not an ideal arrangement for foreign clients. The concerns over Rosatom as a business partner, as well as the risks embodied in its offer, under the model, to take back spent nuclear fuel generated at its reactors in other countries raise serious red flags for any country considering doing nuclear business with Rosatom” it revealed.

 

Conclusion

According to Green Peace, Rosatom has started to promote itself as being able to provide the whole nuclear cycle from financing, to holding the assets and operating the reactors, and if needed, to disposing of the spent nuclear fuel – a scheme called “Build-Own-Operate” or BOO.

Rosatom markets this as ideal for countries like Nigeria that do not have the infrastructure in place to support or adequately regulate nuclear reactors.

Under the BOO scheme, impeccable source revealed that Rosatom projects that it will have orders for 80 reactors abroad by 2030.

However, financial analysts have raised doubts about the economic feasibility of such ambitions, suggesting that it would be difficult for Rosatom to financially support so many expensive nuclear projects even with state funding.

Another concern is that of the critical unresolved problems of managing nuclear waste. Currently no nuclear power vendor has any solution to this problem. The question would be for Rosatom to inform Nigeria clearly its radioactive waste management programme for the reactors it is promising to build in Nigeria.

 

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, successive Russian governments have attempted to secure contracts with European and Asian nuclear power plant operators to import spent nuclear reactor fuel for eventual reprocessing. This is far from being a solution to the nuclear waste problem, as it instead increases the volume of radioactive wastes. In addition, reprocessing is a direct pathway to the production of separated plutonium – a nuclear weapon material.

 

I think we, Nigerians should look before we leap.

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