Nuclear Power for Kenya?

Dear Friends.

On Thursday the 23rd of July the outgoing head of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], Dr. Mohamed El Baradei met President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya. During that meeting Dr. ElBaradei made what to some Kenyans was a startling remark, and that was to pledge his agency’s support to Kenya to help in developing nuclear energy. He actually went on to suggest that despite many other forms of energy generation Kenya had to consider the nuclear option in order to industrialize.

Prior to this statement many in the media while covering the looming shortage in power generation had hinted that the nuclear energy option was completely impossible for Kenya given it’s instability and the danger of proliferation. Many of you who have been following this blog already know that I am a huge supporter of development and try to keep away from this notion that we Kenyans can’t do something, either because it is too difficult and dangerous or, that we dont as yet have the right climate political or otherwise.

However let us remind ourselves what the IAEA does and how it came to be. Towards the end of the second world war, President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order which authorized the bombing of the city of Hiroshima [Japan] on monday, August 6th 1945. The nuclear device used on this day was an atomic weapon code-named “Little Boy”. Three days later on August 9th 1945 another nuclear device this time code-named “Fat Man” was detonated on the city of Nagasaki, Japan. The two detonations led to the deaths of 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 people in Nagasaki by the end of 1945 though many more continued to suffer long after following the effects of radioactivity.

On July 1, 1968 the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty [NPT] was established and opened for signature to the countries of the world. It was proposed by Finland and Ireland and currently has 189 countries who are party to it. Four recognized and sovereign countries however have either refused to sign it or withdrawn. This are Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Within the NPT there are five nuclear powers namely, the USA, Russia, China, France & the United Kingdom. There are therefore 9 countries in the world which possess nuclear weapons.

The Non Proliferation Treaty has a preamble and 11 articles. It has three main objectives expressed as pillars for easier understanding.

  1. Non Proliferation of nuclear weapons & technology

  2. Disarmament

  3. The right to peacefully use nuclear technology.

In a nutshell after the use of nuclear weapons during world war 2 a Pandora’s box was opened. The USA argued that it’s use of the nuclear weapon had saved many more lives by forcing the Japanese to surrender. However when other countries begun to develope and master the technology to make nuclear weapons, a tricky problem arose, the USA realised that one day another country could make a similar argument after bombing a USA city.

This is why the NPT has become such an important and sometimes controversial treaty. However despite initial concerns many of the world’s countries have abided with the provisions of the treaty especially when you consider that to develope nuclear weapons costs alot of money and you can never really use them without suffering serious consequences in return.

On 29th July 1957 the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] was established under it’s own international statute with the aim of promoting peaceful uses of nuclear technology and discouraging the use of such technology for military purposes. In a way this agency enforces the NPT and gives non nuclear states the incentive to continue to remain free of nuclear weapons.

In 1953 President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed the creation of this agency in his “Atoms For Peace” speech to the UN General Assembly. This was in response to the Pandora’s box conundrum I alluded to above. Implicit in both the NPT and the IAEA was a solemn promise by the nuclear weapons states never to use nuclear weapons on non nuclear weapon states. Secondly they would try as much as possible to assist non nuclear weapon states in the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

This is why I think Dr. ElBaradei made the statement he made in Kenya. Many of you are aware of the controversial issue of nuclear power that has been generated by Iran. Alot of people in developing countries now feel that the western world is out to prevent them from enjoying the benefits of nuclear technology whether peaceful or otherwise. After the developments of September 11 the USA is fearful of nuclear technology falling into the wrong hands and that is a legitimate concern to have given that Kenya has suffered a number of terrorist attacks.

However governments do not fall into the category of wrong hands. Nevertheless it is understandable that it is important to be extra vigilant when it comes to nuclear technology. So the question then arises will the west allow Kenya to use this technology especially given that we are really desperate for reliable, cheap electricity to power our growing economies? The answer is offcourse already obvious, Kenya is a signatory of both the NPT & IAEA. Kenya has never done anything that would arouse suspicion that it intended to use such technology for ulterior motives. Kenya has a right to develope peaceful nuclear technology to enhance the quality of life of it’s citizens.

Immediately after the meeting at Statehouse between the President and Dr. ElBaradei some of the more cynical Kenyans begun making very negative comments. This is despite the fact that the same Kenyans blame the government for power rationing and even lack of vision and foresight. They are also the first to blame government for the high cost of doing business in Kenya. Nuclear energy could add to our energy mix and help bring down the cost of electricity which is currently very high compared to our competitiors and is having a negative effect on manufactured goods from Kenya.

Some also pushed the argument that nuclear energy is somewhat unsafe and dangerous for the environment. To counter this argument it is important to realize that France generates 78% of it’s electricity from nuclear power. The USA is offcourse the largest producer of nuclear power. It also currently uses nuclear propulsion for some of it’s aircraft carriers and submarines. This are fully manned meaning that nuclear power can be safe and reliable. I would not advocate for nuclear to account for such a large percentage as the French but I would support for it to generate upto 35% of our energy. This would replace the thermal component which we have to import in terms of oil and which is also very polluting in terms of greenhouse gases.

For those who are worried about security the IAEA would supervise the plant and the Kenya government would provide backup by placing it’s security under military watch as a strategic Kenyan facility. We could also ask for additional security resources from the UN, EU or NATO. We also have some British and American security agreements that would further bolster the security of the plant or plants.

Technology:

Let us now examine some technologies that are possible for Kenya’s adoption in this sector. Dr. ElBaradei offered his agency’s help in training Kenyans in the area of nuclear energy. This is indeed the right first step in gradually and sustainably developing the capacity needed in establishing a viable nuclear power industry in Kenya.

Nuclear power is defined as any technology that is designed to extract usable energy from atomic nuclei via controlled nuclear reactions. In nuclear technology there are two processes that lead to the generation of nuclear energy. These are:

  1. Nuclear Fission

  2. Nuclear Fusion

Presently all nuclear power plants use fission technology to generate energy. Despite the obvious advantages of fusion the technology hasn’t been fully developed to date. It is believed a third process that of radioactive decay could also in future be used to generate energy from spent fuel rods but it too is not a fully developed technology.

A nuclear Fission chain reaction

Nuclear fission is defined as a nuclear reaction whereby an atom is split into two or more parts thereby forming a new substance, releasing neutrons, gamma rays and a significant amount of energy. Fission can be done in two ways. The first method is a controlled fission which is typically done by nuclear power plants and leads to the release of usable energy which is then transmitted as electricity. The second fission is uncontrolled and is currently employed in nuclear weapons and leads to tremendous explosive release of energy in the form of heat & kinetic energy which is usually destructive followed by radioactive fallout.

Deuterium - tritium [Nuclear Fusion]

Nuclear fusion on the other hand refers to the process by which multiple like-charged atomic nuclei join together to form a heavier nucleus. It is accompanied by the release or absorption of energy which allows matter to enter a plasma state. Nuclear fusion occurs naturally in stars and it is what powers our sun. Human attempts at controlled nuclear fusion have been limited at best. The technology to generate electricity from nuclear fusion has proved to be difficult though research continues. Artificial methods of inducing an uncontrolled nuclear fusion process has succeeded in producing hydrogen bombs or what are known as thermonuclear weapons.

Possible Nuclear Plants for Kenya.

To ensure that Kenya  produces nuclear energy safely and reliably it is important that we reduce the risk of proliferation, enhance safety, minimise the problem of reprocessing and storage of spent nuclear material and invest in the latest technology in a cost effective manner. To do this let us examine four possible technologies that may meet this criteria.

Floating nuclear power stations.

The Russians have developed a floating vessel that contains two self contained nuclear reactors that produce upto 70MW of electricity enough to power a city of 200,000. It is possible to upgrade this generation capacity to 325MW. The vessel is 144 metres long and 30 metres wide. It has a displacement of 21,500 tonnes and a crew of 69 people. It also could be modified to act as a desalination plant able to produce 240,000 cubic metres of  fresh water a day. Imagine how important such a vessel would be to the coastal city of Mombasa. It could produce clean water for drinking or irrigation. It would be built in Russia and then towed to Kenya and after serving for a number of years all the nuclear waste would be returned to Russia. Cost of this is estimated at US$ 336 million. Below is a picture of the proposed vessel which will be ready next year 2010.

Floating Nuclear Power Station Russian [Proposed]

SSTAR

This is an acronym for the Small Sealed Transportable Autonomous Reactor. This reactor can produce upto 100MW of electricity. It is designed by the USA and is what is known as a passively safe nuclear reactor. It comes with a self contained supply of fuel usually uranium 235. The 100 megawatt version is expected to be 15 meters high by 3 meters wide, and weigh 500 tonnes. Crucially, SSTAR is also meant to be tamper resistant, which would prevent the leasing country from opening the reactor to use the generated plutonium for nuclear weapons. The tamper-resistant features will include radio monitoring and remote deactivation. The leasing country will therefore have to accept the capability for remote foreign intervention in the facility. A prototype for SSTAR  is expected by 2015, and they are being researched as a possible replacement for today’s light water reactors and as a possible design for use in developing countries, which would use the reactor for several decades and then return the entire unit to the manufacturing country.

Small Transportable Autonomous Reactor

Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor

This is a passively safe generation 3+ nuclear reactor that can  in case of an accident,  remain stabilized for 72 hours without any operator action. Below the vessel, there is a piping structure which allows for cooling of the core during a very severe accident. These pipes divide the molten core and cool it with water flowing through the piping. The probability of radioactivity release to the atmosphere is several orders of magnitude lower than conventional nuclear power plants, and the building cost is 60-70% of other light water reactors. It can generate upto 1600MW.

ESBWR Building Layout

Pebble Bed Modular Reactor

Finally this is one of the most exciting nuclear technologies to come out of Africa. The Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) is a particular design under development by a South African company PBMR (Pty) Ltd since 1994. The project entails the construction of a demonstration power plant at Koeberg near Cape Town and a fuel plant at Pelindaba near Pretoria. Although it is not the only gas-cooled high-temperature reactor currently being developed in the world, the South African project is internationally regarded as the leader in the global power generation field.  The PBMR is characterised by inherently safe features, which mean that no human error or equipment failure can cause an accident that would harm the public. Heat from the PBMR can be used for a variety of industrial process applications, including process steam for cogeneration applications, in-situ oil sands recovery, ethanol applications, refinery and petrochemical applications.  The high temperature heat can also be used to reform methane to produce syngas. It is capable of producing upto 400MW.

PBMR reactor South Africa.

It is my hope that Kenya will take advantage of this technology to improve the lives of Kenyans by providing clean, reliable and cheap electricity to power our growing economy. Some of this technology is between 1yr to 5yrs away. During this time Kenya should embark on training it’s personnel in preparation for the possible future implementation of this project to introduce nuclear technology to Kenya. Kenya has successfully hosted the United Nations Environment Program for many years and there is no reason it cannot host a nuclear power station with the necessary safeguards. Kenya Yes We Can.

JellyFish.

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9 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Jonas said,

    I really hope Kenya choses a more modern and sustainable technology as its main energy source. Nuclear power produces extremely dangerous waste. Also a nuclear plant would take many years to build.

    Go for wind and solar instead. If KPLC just let private actors in the coast would already have enough energy from wind.

    • 2

      jellyfishcoolman said,

      Hi Jonas.

      Thank you for your comment and welcome to my blog. True nuclear does generate some problematic waste. However the technologies I have highlighted above mitigate this risk considerably. I agree wind & solar are safer and more attractive however they have some deficiencies too. Solar has the problem of storage because it is only produced during the day and wind can also be unreliable when there is no wind.

      That is why fossil fuels have been so attractive because they are there 24/7. Geothermal & nuclear power are equally reliable in terms of generating power 24/7/365. Thats why we need what is known as an energy mix. It would be ideal to have 25% Hydro, 25% Geothermal, 10% Nuclear, 20% wind and 20% solar. That way we would have a reliable, non greenhouse emitting energy mix that was also reliable.

      You can also see my blogposts on wind power and the African supergrid which would ensure a steady flow of electricity at all times.

  2. 3

    kainvestor said,

    Never knew that reading about nuclear reactors cold be this entertaining, until now. Thanks for sharing the knowledge.

  3. 4

    Deryck/Trinidad said,

    It’s a good idea on paper but I’m really concerned about the issue of Kenyan majority ownership of the nuclear plant/s. This is imperative to charting Kenya’s destiny. Does Kenya possess uranium as a natural resource?
    The major problem that will be faced is from western countries who will be concerned about terror attacks and the possibility that nuclear technology may fall into the hands of terrorists. The west will also be concerned about the proximity of Somalia to Kenya and therefore a chance though remote of the conflict there spilling over into Kenya. There will also be concerns from environmentalists who will attempt to scupper the plans to develop nuclear plants.
    Finally I hope that Kenya can overcome the challenges faced and really become an African and world economic power that can lead the way and provide the template for a successful, sustainable and developed Africa.

  4. 5

    […] Recently the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) came out strongly supporting  Kenya to exploit nuclear power as a source of energy. “Kenya might have other sources of energy but in order to industrialize faster there is need for nuclear energy,” Baradei said during a meeting with President Mwai Kibaki in Nairobi. The issue of nuclear power is discussed at great length by Jellyfish on his blog https://jellyfishcoolman.wordpress.com/2009/08/02/nuclear-power-for-kenya/ […]

  5. 7

    paula said,

    I’m with Jonas on this – sorry but if it came to a referendum I’d say NO to nuclear under this crappy regime. I’d put my money on wind, solar and tidal energy – why don’t we start with the easier stuff? It’s not like we have such massive power requirements like some industrial nations – lets keep Kenya clean and safe. If our govt is so capable and so concerned you’d think they’d have gone this route decades ago. But they’ve proven time and again to be selfish thinking people – and imagine the amount of skimming one can do on a Nuclear power plant project …is it my imagination or is this just in time for elections 2012…a creative way of getting campaign money (wonders never cease). I say “NO TO NUCLEAR” – admit it jellyfish deep in your heart you know it’s just another white elephant.

  6. 8

    jellyfishcoolman said,

    Dear Paula.

    I take this opportunity to first welcome you to my blog. I also thank you for your contribution on this issue. Having said so I humbly disagree with your assessment. The problem with many Kenyans today is that they are too highly politicized that the rational part of their brain is gone. Lets start by trying to get back that logical truth.

    First assume that we had the best govt in the world would you support nuclear power then? Secondly you say we don’t have massive power requirements. Let’s get this straight Kenyans have been suffering from power rationing and very expensive tariffs for their electricity. This means the demand for electricity far exceeds supply. In addition a very small percentage of our population is connected to the grid. With all the attempts to industrialize and make Kenya achieve vision 2030 we need to connect all citizens to the grid. To do that we will need to increase power generation by a very large factor. So we do have need for a massive amount of electricity.

    With regard to the political issue let’s start by acknowledging that when a politician says he wants to do something good for us he/she needs to receive support first for that. Afterall the said politician has electricity in his house & can afford to do nothing about this issue. In order to address the issue of corruption we need to address institutions and procedures otherwise if we said we will not build anything because of corruption then nothing would get done at all. The other methods you talk of namely wind, solar & geothermal also involve substantial amounts of money which can be skimmed same as a nuclear project. So the corruption is not only limited to nuclear power plants.

    Nuclear technology has improved over many yrs and is now considered very safe. France produces almost 78% of it’s electricity from nuclear. It has not suffered any major incidences that I know of. The USA, Canada & much of the EU all operate nuclear power stations. The Chinese, Russians, Iranians & our own brothers the South Africans have nuclear power stations. They haven’t sufferd any major incidences that I am aware of. Ask any aviation expert and he will tell you statistically aviaton is one of the safest modes of travel. Despite airlines crashing occasionally it doesn’t stop many people from air travel. This is he same with nuclear energy. The fact that we had Chernobyl doesn’t mean that nuclear plants are unsafe quite the contrary they are among the safest energy plants because of the increased vigilance and awareness.

    Granted our politicians haven’t been the best in the world but they are not the worst either. The democratic space Kenyans enjoy today is both a positive and a negative. The fact that you can so easily express your criticisms in Kenya is testament to the high level of democracy and free speech we enjoy as a people. The negative to democracy is that it can also slow down worthwhile projects because of too much time consulting people who may not always be fully informed or who may have pre-conceived ideas which they are not open to change. This is why if you compare the time and money needed to implement a nuclear project in Kenya to say China we would be beaten hands down by the Chinese. They only need to consult their experts and a few govt officials. You have already declared you would vote NO despite what a scientific assessment would say to the contrary meaning you have a closed mind on this issue.

    The fact that Africans have such low regard for each other is what holds as back as a people. You automatically accept Europeans & Americans having access to nuclear power but are opposed to Africans having the same techology because you somehow regard them as incapable of being responsible. That is a slave mentality that modern day Africans should never accept. We possess within our midst leaders and people who can provide leadership and inspiration but we have got to start doing that now. To develope we cannot wait until we have perfect leaders or systems. Utopia is not yet present on Earth.

  7. 9

    Richard said,

    Hi jellyfish,

    Going through some of your archived posts I saw your statement as to the reasons for the use of atomic bombs in WWII. I suggest you read a few books on the subject: “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” by Richard Rhodes and “Downfall” by Richard Frank. The latter is especially enlightening as to the specifics regarding the use of the bomb in WWII. I think that before one makes judgements on past actions one needs to know the situation as faced by the participants at the time the decisions were made.

    The reason the Atomic Bombs were used in World War II was to force the Japanese to accept the provisions of the Potsdam Declaration and surrender unconditionally, something that they had refused to do even after having 58 of their largest 60 cities destroyed over the previous 4 months, their navy and merchant marine completely obliterated and the prospects for future widespread famine in Japan very good if the war had continued longer.

    If lives had been saved by their use then that was a plus. Long before the decision to use the bombs was made, plans were being made to invade the Japanese Home islands where hundreds of thousands of casualties were anticipated. It’s been estimated that every month the war continued, 100,000 to 200,000 Chinese died as a result of the Japanese occupation of that country.

    The basics of nuclear energy were known before the start of WWII and even if the Allies (people forget that the Manhattan Project was a collaborative effort between the US and the UK) had not developed atomic bombs, they would have eventually been produced by those countries that had the resources and the will to do so. The Germans and the Japanese did have a-bomb projects during the war but due to various factors they were unsuccessful. The Soviets certainly would have gone forward with this after the war, even lacking all the information they gained through espionage of the Manhattan Project (their first bomb in 1949 was an exact copy of the Nagasaki bomb). If a Pandora’s box was opened it was when Otto Hahn discovered nuclear fission in the late 1930’s, the final basic key to the making of the bomb.

    Regards,

    Richard


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