Road to 2026: Demystifying Kenya’s Nuclear Energy Programme

With the view of putting an end to its energy crisis, Kenya has a long-term goal to build nuclear power plants. Which will supplement energy needs from other energy source available in the country’s Energy basket as envisaged in session paper No 4 of 2004 a policy document that governs energy sector in Kenya.

Today, with nearly 50 million people, Kenya is among the leading economies on the African continent. In a recent global, survey of economies 2015 Kenya ranked 3rd after china and Philippines as the fastest growing economies in the world it’s against this backdrop that energy demands are expected increase significantly and thus the need for an increased reliable, sustainable as well as affordable energy supply .

Kenya has already pledged to meet some quite ambitious and at the same time daunting goals to bring electricity to nearly 70% of households to the grid and add 5 000 MW of installed capacity to the energy system.

There are significant breakthroughs to this effect – 55% of households have been connected to the main grid, which represents nearly 25 million people. Moreover, over 22 000 schools were connected to power as well as 35 towns and urban centers. As Kenya wants to embark on the path of dynamic development it requires between 45 000 MW and 50 000 MW.

Given that the development of nuclear energy is in line with National Strategy ] Vision 2030, according to which nuclear energy can amount to 19% of energy generation, making nuclear energy the second important source after geothermal. Nuclear program development has a sound point – clear and sustainable source of energy that can guarantee affordable and reliable energy generation for decades.

Kenya is ready to develop its nuclear power sector. In 2016, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has endorsed Kenya’s application to include nuclear power in its energy mix. IAEA-led team of international experts who reviewed Kenya’s progress in developing the national infrastructure for a nuclear power programme noted that Kenya has made progress in its quest to have legal and regulatory framework in place especially covering radiation sources in agriculture, medicine, industry and research.

The Kenyan Government through its agency Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board (KNEB) is currently implementing a raft of recommendations by (IAEA), after an Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review process, was carried out mid last year which includes, having a fully-fledged semi-autonomous agency , the Kenya Nuclear Regulatory Authority (KNRA) in place as it looks forward to have the first Nuclear Power plant by 2026

But is nuclear energy really a safe and efficient option for the country? Does it pose any danger to environment and people working at and living near nuclear facilities? This article will focus on the most deep-rooted myths around nuclear power.

Nuclear energy is bad for the environment

The interesting thing about nuclear reactors is that they emit no hazardous greenhouse gases into the atmosphere during operation. Over full lifetime of a nuclear power plant (60-80 years), their total emissions are comparable to those of renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar.

However unlike renewables, which are certainly clean and green, nuclear energy requires far less land use than most other forms of energy.

Over the past decades, nuclear energy has saved the environment from countless CO2 emissions. Each year nuclear power saves nearly 2 gigatonnes of CO2, which can be comparable to the annual emissions of an average emerging market country.

Nuclear energy is unsafe

On the contrary, statistically Nuclear is one of the safest methods of producing energy, especially when compared to it fossil fuel rivals. Coal generation alone has resulted in over 4000 times more deaths than nuclear. The stringent global regulations and combination of passive and active safety systems take all possible scenarios into consideration. A great deal has been learned over the many decades of nuclear power operation and these lessons have been applied to make nuclear energy incredibly safe and protect the environment and mankind from any potential hazards.

Nuclear energy is hugely expensive

The initial overnight construction cost of a nuclear power plant (NPP) is higher than other sources, no one disputes this fact. However, one needs to consider the life span and operating costs of different sources. NPPs have a 60 to 80 year life span, and far outliving even their fossil fuel rivals, their operation costs are also a fraction when compared to other sources. Once the initial costs have been paid off, a nuclear power plant creates abundant power for a fraction of the cost and essentially becomes a cash cow for any country for generations to come.

Nuclear waste is deadly for thousands of years

Many industries produce hazardous and toxic waste. All toxic waste needs to be dealt with safely, not just radioactive waste.

Most nuclear waste produced is hazardous too, due to its radioactivity, but remains so for only a few tens of years and is safely disposed of in near-surface disposal facilities. Only a small volume of nuclear waste (nearly 3% of the total volume) is long-lived and highly radioactive and is therefore isolated safely from the environment for many thousands of years.

Moreover, this portion is not much more radioactive than some things found in nature, and can be easily shielded to protect humans and wildlife.

One also need to make the clear distinction between nuclear waste and spent fuel, spent fuel is not considered waste as it can be reprocessed and reused. The amount of spent fuel produced is very minimal when compared to fossil fuel rivals and is stored safely in spent fuel pools onsite or special dry cask facilities.

Coincidentally, fly ash which is emitted by coal fired power plants is also radioactive but is not treated in the same manner. Nuclear is one of the only industries that actively takes care of absolutely all of the waste that it produces.

Nuclear waste cannot be safely transported

Used fuel is safely being transported by truck, rail, and cargo ship today.  To date, thousands of shipments have been safely transported with no leaks or cracks of the specially-designed casks.

Does Kenya have the capacity to develop nuclear programme?

Kenya is in close cooperation with the international Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) within the Technical Cooperation Programme. The technical cooperation programme is the IAEA’s mechanism for transferring nuclear technology to Member States. It assists in establishing and strengthening capacities for the safe, peaceful and secure use of nuclear technology for sustainable socioeconomic development.

Kenya would not have been marching forward with nuclear programme with no necessary regulatory body and institutions. In 2016 the IAEA team of experts welcomed Kenyan regulatory body for decision-making in radiation safety and its commitment to strengthen the oversight over all radiation-related facilities in the country.

This May Kenya signed its fourth Country Programme Framework (CPF) for 2017–2022 with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The framework sets for assistance and support from the Agency in development of nuclear programme in different spheres.

Dr. Eng. Joseph Njoroge, the Principal Secretary Ministry of Energy & Petroleum pended his signature on the document setting stage for assistance and support from the IAEA in implementing development projects in the country that apply nuclear technology in agriculture, research, cancer treatment and nuclear energy development.

A CPF is the framework of reference for the medium-term planning of technical cooperation between a Member State and the IAEA because it identifies priority areas where the transfer of nuclear technology and technical cooperation resources will be directed to support national development goals.

The CPF describes Kenya’s priority areas for technical cooperation between the country and IAEA that will require support for realization of national development goals. Country Programme Framework (CPF) will run for a period of five years starting in 2017 to 2022.

In order to make nuclear programme true, Kenya has already collaborated with global leaders in nuclear energy like Russia, China and South Korea.