Article written

  • on 22.06.2015
  • at 02:35 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Nigeria flirts with the nuclear age, dancing to a Russian beat 0

Construction on two new nuclear plants in Nigeria edges closer. Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear energy corporation, has selected two sites for the plants which should start producing energy from 2024. Nigeria, like South Africa, clearly needs the extra power, but the same questions plague both countries: is nuclear really the best way to go? And is Rosatom the best company to make it happen? By Simon Allsion.

According to Reuters, Nigeria has finally decided where it is going to build its two new nuclear plants. While the exact locations are being kept under wraps – presumably to minimise protests from nearby communities, because who wants to live near a nuclear reactor? – a Reuters source revealed the general whereabouts: one would be in Akwa Ibom state, in the south-east, and the other in the central state of Kogi. Each location would house two reactors.

This is a big decision, and the first sign that Nigeria’s long-held nuclear ambitions may just turn into reality. If all goes according to plan, the first plant will start generating power in 2024; by 2035, when the project is complete, the nuclear facilities will add around 4,800 megawatts to the grid, at a total cost of about $80 billion. This works out to a cool R1 trillion, give or take inflation and the exchange rate. This figure is – perhaps not coincidentally – the same as the projected cost for South Africa’s new nuclear plant.

Nigeria desperately needs more power. Although it is Africa’s largest oil producer, successive governments have entirely failed to capitalise and the country doesn’t have enough electricity to meet its basic needs, never mind to stimulate development and business. Currently, peak output in Nigeria is 3,800MW. Pakistan, a country with a similar population size, and also dogged by endemic corruption and widespread insecurity, somehow manages to put out 14,700 – and this despite having lost nearly half its generation capacity over the last few years, thanks to mismanagement and the oil crisis.

Another instructive comparison is with South Africa, where the much-maligned Eskom has a total generating capacity of 41,194MW. This is on a good day, admittedly, but even on a bad day South Africa produces nearly ten times as much electricity as Nigeria, for a population that is less than a third of Nigeria’s.

In this context, it’s vital that Nigeria increases its generation capacity – and quickly. Nuclear may achieve that, but not before Nigeria overcomes significant obstacles. In a 2010 paper for the Centre for International Governance Innovations, Nathaniel Low-Beer Lewis identified the main problems. “Despite progress in some areas, including the ratification of international treaties, development of regulatory infrastructure and signing of bilateral technical cooperation agreements, significant challenges remain: a substandard grid, underdeveloped electricity market, lack of technical capacity, widespread corruption and a dubious history of success in large, government-managed projects, render the proposed Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission timeline unrealistic,” he concluded.

Continue reading on the Daily Maverick

by Simon Allsion

Photo Credit: Flickr/Jan De Corte (The Cooling towers of Doel Nuclear Power Station, seen from the opposite bank of the Scheldt river, Belgium)

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