The twin challenge of meeting the rising energy demand of a growing population, while having to decrease the negative impact of energy production on the climate is of concern.

On Thursday, 28th July 2022, The Electricity Hub (TEH), a subsidiary of The Nextier Group, in collaboration with the Heinrich Böll Foundation, organised its 72nd Power Dialogue to discuss the merits of nuclear power as it relates to Nigeria’s energy needs and climate protection targets.

Nigeria seeks to build and diversify its energy sources by exploring the potential of nuclear power to tackle its vast electricity deficit and against the backdrop of its recent commitment to net-zero emissions by 2060.

In 2015, the federal government began talks with Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear corporation, to collaborate on designing, constructing, and operating four nuclear power reactors by 2035. The plants are to be located in Kogi and Akwa Ibom States.

In March 2022, the Nigerian government finally announced that it had opened bids to construct nuclear power plants to generate 4,000 MW of electricity.

The panel discussants included Emeka Okpukpara, partner, The Nextier Group; Dr Sam Amadi, director Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts; Mycle Schneider, coordinator and publisher, World Nuclear Industry Status Report; Ms Ifeoma Malo, co-founder/CTO, Clean Technology Hub Nigeria, and Prof.

Abdullahi A. Mati, director, Nuclear Power Plant Development Programme, Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission.

Emeka Okpukpara emphasised the importance of solving the energy challenges in the country. He highlighted several changes occurring in the space, such as the partial activation of contracts and the recent move by the Senate on states’ ability to generate power. This, he noted, and the call for climate action has created a window of opportunity for Nigerians to explore other ways of generating power. Among the alternative ways is nuclear energy.

Mycle Schneider opined that there is a considerable gap between the public perception of the status of the nuclear industry worldwide and the industrial reality. His presentation on the status and trends of nuclear power in the world revealed that the world recorded the maximum nuclear-operating units of 438 reactors in 2002.

In 2006, the maximum operating capacity of atomic reactors stood at 367.1GWe. The report also indicated that China had led the development of nuclear reactors, with the highest construction of plants recorded in 2010. However, outside China, just a handful of nuclear energy constructions have been carried out worldwide, with a maximum of 7 in 2013.

Mycle further noted that nuclear energy development had seen minor investments in contrast to other renewable energy technologies like wind and solar. As a result, there has been a stagnant capacity for nuclear power generation projects.

However, he noted that in 2021, nuclear power as an energy source recovered with six new project constructions in China. According to Mycle, while small modular reactors have generated a lot of media attention, there is still limited public funding and little progress made.

Prof. Abdullahi Mati, noted that conversations around nuclear energy revolve not only around technology and economic value but also a political inclination. He mentioned that Nigeria’s nuclear programme began about 40 years ago, with the first decree established by the Nigeria Atomic Nuclear Commission in 1976.

However, global politics around nuclear tests by some countries led to the decline in resource development. Regarding the environmental hazards of nuclear plants, Prof. Mati highlighted that research is ongoing on developing new generation reactors with minimal waste products and increased capacity.

This research led to technological developments such as small modular reactors that can be installed within load centres with high efficiency. He noted that Nigeria is undergoing a gradual energy transition journey and foresees nuclear as a viable option. Prof. Mati further suggested extensive research into the resource before project commencement.

Dr. Sam Amadi noted that excluding wind energy, nuclear energy is the second most clean energy resource as it does not emit greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, its cost-effectiveness and efficient load base offer it a comparative advantage over other energy systems.

He noted that the joint committee on nuclear development in Nigeria has a pipeline to develop four nuclear reactors with the capacity to generate 4000MW.

However, Dr. Amadi pointed out that although nuclear power is a clean energy resource, it has significant environmental drawbacks, such as radioactive waste products from the reaction. He added that this is an essential factor to consider in Nigeria regarding talks around resource development.

Citing the lack of adequate transmission infrastructure to receive existing generation power, Dr. Amadi posed the question of whether the government should be more concerned with expanding capacity or increasing investments to ensure that the current generated capacity gets reliably distributed.

Ms Ifeoma Malo emphasised that the global shift and trends around energy security have called for the need to decarbonise energy systems and seek solutions to achieve energy independence. She noted that over the last year, there had been several commercial activities around catalysing nuclear power in Nigeria.

Ms Malo mentioned that nuclear energy is seen on the distal end of the clean energy debate owing to the public perception of the resource. She added that Nigeria is not ready for nuclear energy generation given the challenges around the existing electricity generation and supply network. According to her, there is a poor management structure in the country, which has impacted the current energy infrastructure.

On the environmental issues of the resource, Ms Malo pointed out the need to delineate emissions, radiation and safety in considering nuclear as an energy transition fuel.

The panelists unanimously agreed that while nuclear energy is envisioned as a clean energy resource, talks around its development in Nigeria may not be viable considering the present bottlenecks affecting the country’s electricity sector.

However, given its potential for ensuring energy independence, extensive research should be conducted on its development cost alongside the technological and environmental implications of the energy source.

Ekene Mekwunye (The Electricity Hub)

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