Is Kenya Ready to Go Nuclear?

There were media reports last week  that a delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency was in Nairobi to meet Kenyan officials over Kenya’s proposal to start construction of a nuclear power plant that is intended to generate additional electric energy to enable the country meet its rising demand. This of course is a project proposal that is quite in order if there is adequacy of  both preparedness and skilled human resources as well as water resources and a foolproof mechanism to ensure foolproof security for the plant and save handling and disposal of nuclear waste among other things! Questions that call for answers are: Has the country done enough feasibility studies and weighed the impact such a project will have on the environment including people, animals, plants, water masses, air quality and especially food sources and resources? How will the country approach the issue to ensure no leakage of radioactivity into the environment? How will accidental and deliberate  incidents be prevented so that the people and the environment remain safe? Who will man the plant once complete? Who will manage it? Where will the country get water resources for cooling and for steam generation from given the fact that there are some challenges posed by droughts, seasonality of many rivers and ever dwindling permanence of other water masses? We know that the country has a big challenge providing clean tap water and other services  for the citizens of major and smaller cities like Nairobi, Kisumu, Mombasa, etc, how will it be ensured that the same inefficiency is not carried over to the nuclear plant, a factor that will seriously endanger the public? When it comes to operations and maintenance of the nuclear plant, is the country adequately prepared for that? Will the plant manpower adequately be shielded from the effects of radioactivity?  What mechanisms, means and technologies have been accessed and tested and proven efficacious? Where will the facility be located? Where will the waste be disposed of? Who will handle and transport row material? Who will handle and transport nuclear waste? Which routing will the transportation apparatus follow? With poor roads and rampant violations of the highway code and traffic rules coupled with corruption, how will the transportation apparatus ensure that no accident takes place during transpiration and cause radioactive leakage? What are the short-term and long-term goals for the project? Has a computer or any allied model been tested and proven acceptable and reasonable? Has the public been educated regarding the usefulness and dangers of nuclear energy production? How viable will the project be? How cost-effective? How reliable?

The second factor to consider about the proposed plant is the cost! We are sure that there is an estimate cost estimate for the plant and allied projects! How will that be funded? How long will the project take to pay itself back? Is that cost-effective? How will that affect the country’s overall project development and the economy?

Another factor to consider is the alternatives to the nuclear plant! Let us take solar generation as an example! Has that been considered? Where has the nuclear option proved more attractive? Solar energy, we have argued in the past, is a better and more preferable option for Kenya for safety and sustainability reasons. First, Kenya sits astride the equator. That means that it is endowed with inexhaustible continuity and quantities of sunshine throughout the year, a factor which corries an immensity of positivity for the solar option. Secondly, Kenya should invest more in small hydro and revive the small hydro plants that were dismantled in the nineties! It should also rejuvenate, redesign and better the existing microgrids and start new ones fired by solar, wind, natural gas and hydro. Thirdly, the country should open up the marginalized areas to development, a factor that will favour more investment in solar, wind and hydro generation. The country should also invest more in geothermal energy, expand its transmission and distribution capacity, efficiency, resiliency, flexibility, reliability and integrity to ensure more connectivity and continuity of supply and negligibility of unplanned outages, transients, voltage surges,  undervoltages, sustained faults and breakdowns! In other words, the country should invest in methods of generation that will enhance customer satisfaction, lower electric energy costs, lower operations and maintenance costs for the utility owners and operators and enhance safety for the personnel, the environment, the public and especially for the food and water sources  and the air we breathe!

Kenya has always looked for cheaper energy sources to boost its generation capacity. Droughts and seasonality of many Kenyan rivers have posed a major challenge in the past. That has affected the country and made it difficult for it   to achieve and ensure sustainable  food security as there is inadequate water for irrigation and sometimes erratic weather patterns with the ever changing climatic conditions posed by the effects of global warming. Many towns and cities across Kenya do not have enough clean tap water for the residents. The villages across Kenya hardly have tap water. The people in Kenya’s coastal area, North-East and Northern Kenya, Ukambani, Maasailand, many parts of the Rift Valley and lower Nyanza can attest to the hardship they undergo in search of drinking water.  Opening up these areas to modern development by initiating microgrids supplying electric energy from solar, wind and natural gas generation will go a long way in easing the burdens and hardship the people face as well as enhance and boost the country’s chances of meeting its development agenda and achieving its goals. In our view, Kenyan authorities should do things differently, better and better and always go an extra mile in doing them right so that the country steers clear of crises and continues on a safe and sustainable path to true development and economic greatness. The nuclear plant proposal, in our view, may be standing in the way of the county’s advancement to the first world development status. Doing things differently hardly means doing them the way that is attractive. It means taking bold measures that will make a difference in a positive sense and direction. The development path should not plant thorns and spikes on the roads the people travel on! Safety and security are crucial! So is peace!

Kenya is blessed with the fact that most of its power generation capacity is in hydro. That in itself means that the country enjoys power supply that never pollutes the environment with dangerous green gas emission. Secondly, the country has huge geothermal (underground steam) resources, most of it unexploited. That gives Kenya ample opportunities to invest more in geothermal generation. Moreover, the country sits astride the equator, giving it a clear advantage when it comes to investing in solar energy generation. The nuclear plant Kenya intends to put up may face major operational, maintenance, logistical and security challenges. The issue of handling and disposal of nuclear waste may prove tricky and endanger populations or even posterity. The issue of water that will be needed for steam generation and cooling has not been adequately addressed! We urge the Kenyan authorities to choose wisely and act judiciously! Rushing has never been prudence. Safety and sustainability matter for peace and progress! That is why we urge Kenya to invest in solar and other renewable energy generation more and more! That is where Kenya’s greatness and secure future lies! That matters for peace, safety, security and progress! That is why we all need to be guided by Solomonic wisdom! To do what is right, as we all know, starts  at the beginning and at every stage along the way, ceaselessly!



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