Jitters as Kenyan authorities seek to go nuclear

By Mark Oloo in Nairobi – Kenyan authorities have today announced plans to go nuclear by 2017.

Energy Permanent Secretary Patrick Nyoike said provisions have been made to secure an initial US$25 million for the country’s first nuclear project.

The official told reporters in the capital Nairobi that nuclear would be a cheaper option towards meeting the East African country’s electricity deficit, estimated at 3000 mega watts.

He said the Government had picked a team, headed by former Energy Minister Ochillo Ayacko, to steer the project.

The move has, however, drawn as much interest as fury amid global debate on the safety and environmental viability on nuclear power.

Already, there is heated talk in Europe, with key players like Germany and Britain opting to halt plans to construct more nuclear plants.

The question, environmentalists say, is whether Kenya will sustain a technology economic power houses are shutting doors on.

Questions have also been raised over Kenya’s ability to handle the disposal of nuclear wastes. The country still has no laws on utilisation of nuclear material.

“The Chernobyl experience is what every country must try to avoid. Countries that have not gone into nuclear should think creatively before doing so,” said Annelore Smith, a journalist familiar with the world’s worst nuclear accident witnessed in Ukraine in 1986.

More questions linger as to whether the Government is being naive in thinking it has capacity to build it and adequately address security challenges that come with it.

France and Finland, credited as the most successful countries in nuclear exploitation, have had their fair share of challenges ranging from quality control problems and coast overruns. The question some ask is how capable Kenya is technologically to ensure success in this front.

Analysts believe when such projects suffer cost overruns, the taxpayer bears the burden. Is the Kenyan taxpayer prepared to shoulder the burden of building a single nuclear power plant at the expense of other crucial sectors of the economy?

Paul Okinyi, a Kenyan environmentalist, says developing countries should pursue renewable energy sources.

“Solar and nuclear costs—The historic crossover”, John Blackburn, an economics professor at Duke University, says photovoltaics have joined the ranks of lower-cost alternatives to new nuclear power plants.