African nations can deal with water shortages by investing in Nuclear technologies

In a constantly developing world it is hard to imagine life without universal access to clean potable water, an essential to life that should be available to every man woman and child on the planet. In fact, one of the UN’s most important Sustainable development goals is dedicated to securing access to clean water and sanitation.

Despite the huge global efforts, thanks to which 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, more than 600 million people are still suffering due to a lack of clean drinking water. A World Economic Forum report in January 2015 highlighted the problem and stated that the shortage of fresh water may be the main global threat in the next decade.

Over the past decade Sub-Saharan Africa has enjoyed impressive economic growth, given efforts to increase infrastructure development and attract foreign direct investments. However, the region still faces substantial development challenges. One of these challenges is providing its people with accessible potable water, as lack of access to current water resources is severely affecting public health.

For instance, due to lack of infrastructure, Nigerians have to purchase water from private vendors. Not all residents can afford buying high-priced fresh water. In Ghana, 25% of child deaths are caused by diseases connected with poor water quality, given that around 80% of the population has access to water. In Kenya, potable water is accessible to approximately 59% of the population.

Secured water supply can not only improve people’s quality of live but also boost countries’ economic growth and sustainable development. For instance, the UN estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa loses around 40 billion hours every year collecting water. That’s the same as a full year’s worth of labor by France’s entire workforce.

The effective utilization of water resources, as well as efficient management and reducing waste is at the centre of the economy and politics of each country. No development can succeed without water, said Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Research from the University of Johannesburg

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 320 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to clean drinking water. Due to poor infrastructure, people in the region face huge challenges, although some have access to deep water wells, the majority rely on surface water, which contains bacteria and contaminants.

According to Ghanaian expert Mrs. Esi Awuah, who specializes in waste-water treatment, groundwater is the best resource to tap to provide clean water to the majority of rural areas in Africa. However, the high costs of drilling and the technical challenges present serious problems. There may be contamination of the water with heavy metals, and bacteria may be introduced by leaking septic systems or contaminated wells. For these reasons, it is important that groundwater be monitored frequently, which is costly and requires technical abilities that may not be present in rural areas.

Climate change for its part also negatively affects the situation, as some long held fresh water sources simply will be no longer be reliably available to hundreds of millions of people around the world in the upcoming future. According to global estimates by 2025, half of the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas.

It is of the greatest importance that the world monitors how efficiently water is used. Moreover, it is now a necessity that wastewater be purified and reused. If done efficiently, safe management of wastewater can yield multiple benefits, including increased food production through irrigation.

Management of all water resources will need to be improved to ensure provision and quality.

According to the Prof Catherine Ngila, Head of the Department of Applied Chemistry at the University of Johannesburg, There is a growing need for developing and adopting new technologies to test and treat contaminated water and recycle waste water in an affordable manner.

Where it cannot be obtained from streams and natural reservoirs, desalination of seawater, mineralization of groundwater or urban waste water purification is strictly required. A great deal of the water crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa can be successfully overcome by developing special desalination plants or respective technologies and at the same time improving distribution infrastructure.

However, today most desalination technologies in the world use fossil fuels to generate the vast amount of energy needed to desalinate water and for this reason contribute more to increased levels of greenhouse gases and are not cost-effective. In general desalination is a very energy-intensive process at every cycle of operation. Energy is required to pump water from the ocean into the plant, heat thousands of gallons of water or push salt and other minerals through a special membrane. This can be a huge disadvantage considering that many other industries like transportation, manufacturing, and logistics are also dependent on energy.

Moreover, traditional desalination technologies are rather expensive, and not many countries can afford them. For example, Saudi Arabia has spent roughly $4 billion building desalination plant that will provide the Arabic country with nearly 350 Gl/yr. (around 900,000 cubic meters a day).

It is for these reasons that small and medium sized nuclear reactors will be the future of water desalination in the world. Nuclear desalination uses the excess heat from a nuclear power plant to evaporate sea water and to condense the pure water. The benefit of nuclear technology is obvious – nuclear plants are capable of providing cheap, sustainable and clean energy as well as clean water at the same time.

Russian nuclear energy corporation Rosatom has gone even further and has developed world’s first floating nuclear plant, capable to providing both energy and clean water to remote and desert regions.

The floating power plant can also be modified as a desalination plant able to produce 240,000 cubic meters of fresh water daily.

Like every Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), the floating power plant has all necessary safety technologies, exceeding any possible threats, which makes the reactors invulnerable to tsunami waves or crashes with other ships or on-land structures. Nuclear desalination technologies do not emit any dangerous substances into atmosphere.

The existing Rosatom offer encompasses desalination facilities that employ multi effect distillation technology and are integrated into the NPP. Such installations use steam that has already been used for electricity production. The NPP produces large amounts of heat and steam, which is why a desalination facility integrated into a nuclear power plant can ensure a constant supply of water to areas with a population of up to 1 million people.

For instance, a large facility in India with a capacity of 10,000 cubic meters per day was commissioned at the Kudankulam NPP, which was constructed by Rosatom. The purpose of the project was to obtain the water necessary for cooling during NPP operation, as well as to ensure drinking water supplies to the local communities.

So does it make sense for developing economies to adopt the nuclear energy technology? The absolute answer is yes!

The conversation that should be taking place is not what kind of energy source is superior or has higher short coming than the others, what policy makers as well as the general populace should be more interested is how can different energy source compliment energy needs in Kenya and therefore retain an Energy mix, that’s the decent kind of conversation that ought to be taking place.

Energy is a driver if Kenya is to attain its development Agenda Vision 2030 it is therefore imperative to note that energy diversification and adoption of new contemporary energy power source, is vital to Kenya’s attainment of the development blue print agenda hence Kenya nuclear energy plans comes in handy.