How a nuclear program could foster infrastructure development in Kenya

Today the African continent is experiencing dynamic development, manifested by a high urbanization rate of more than 3.6% annually, adding nearly 350 million new city-dwellers by 2030, according to the Brookings Institution.

Population growth, which is in the heart of the urbanization, poses both opportunities and risks. On the one hand it is increases economic opportunity for the youth, on the other it increases poverty, unemployment and unaddressed health issues.

Given the rapid urbanization, African nations need to ensure that power infrastructure is developed at a pace needed to meet the growing demands of a growing population. Today, with roughly 45 million people, Kenya is heading toward becoming one of the leading economies on the African continent. It is estimated that the country’s population will reach up to 90 million by 2050, which entails greater responsibility for investments in energy, economy, infrastructure and healthcare.

The energy sector is vital for the country’s wellbeing as the development of all industries and public service sectors depend directly on energy efficiency and security.

To meet its goals the government of Kenya has pledged to bring electricity to nearly 70% of households by end of 2018 and to reach universal access in 2020.[1] Also the country needs to add 5 000 MW of installed capacity to the energy system according to its Strategy 2030. Due to rapid population growth and urbanization, the country’s energy demand has grown by roughly 75% since 2007. Energy consumption rates are outpacing the current supply. [2]

Currently electricity in Kenya is generated mainly through geothermal (47%) and hydropower (39%) sources. The country’s current installed electricity capacity is estimated at 2 400 MW. As hydropower accounts for a large percentage of this capacity and relies on unpredictable and intermitted natural conditions, the frequency of power outages remains very high (33%) in comparison to an average figures in South Africa, where the power outage composes only 1%. The cost of generated electricity in Kenya is also high at US$0.150 per kWh, almost four times the cost of energy in South Africa (US$0.040).[3]

In order to diversify energy mix and guarantee affordable and sustainable energy, the Kenyan government has made a firm decision to go on with its plants to build a nuclear power plant (NPP). The development of nuclear energy is in line with national Strategy 2030, according to which nuclear energy should amount to 19% of the country’s energy generation, making nuclear energy the second most important source after geothermal. The nuclear programme in Kenya is based on a sound point – clean and sustainable energy that can guarantee affordable and reliable energy generation for decades to come.

Indeed, in order to achieve a balanced energy mix, the country should consider all available sustainable sources of energy. For instance, solar, wind, hydro and nuclear power complement and reinforce each other to form a ‘green square’, which will essentially become the base for the world’s future carbon-free energy mix.

The inclusion of nuclear in the nation’s long-term energy strategy covers not only the provision of power but also numerous other areas of economic and social development at the same time. Global experience has shown that NPP construction brings about numerous positive effects. For example, a modern NPP construction comes with huge economic direct and indirect spinoffs in terms of the local construction industry, with provision of accommodation campuses, new local infrastructure, roads and highways. Investment into a nuclear projects envisages the construction of schools, housing and development of the public and private sector.

The already operational Kudankulam NPP in India, which was constructed with the help of Russia, has created roughly 10 000 local jobs in the region where the plant is situated, not to mention the new jobs created in equipment-manufacturing companies and other spin off industries. In developed nations nuclear energy remains an important tool in stimulating the economy and the development of industries such as medicine, agriculture and space.

For instance, the construction of Kalinin nuclear power plant in Russia became the largest investment project of the Tver region in recent years. This nuclear power plant generates up to 70% of electricity in the region. Moreover the NPP is the major taxpayer of the region.

Global practice shows that nuclear science can be successfully employed in many different spheres, from medicine to agriculture. The application of nuclear technologies in Africa have made it possible for soybean farmers to triple their income using the benefits of nuclear irradiation. The implementation of isotopic techniques also makes it easy to regulate the amount of nitrogen in the soil, which is necessary for healthy plant growth.

Nuclear innovations are also indispensable to the public health sector, as nuclear technologies have a vast range of medical applications. For instance nuclear medicine can be used to examine diverse conditions such as blood flow to the brain, proper functioning of the liver, lungs, heart or kidneys, assess bone growth, as well as to confirm results gained from other diagnostic procedures.

In general nuclear medicine uses radiation to provide diagnostic information about the functioning of specific organs, and further to treat them. Nowadays the diagnostic procedures using radioisotopes have become a common practice across the world.

Radiotherapy is used to treat a number of medical conditions, but more specifically cancer, using radiation to weaken or destroy particular targeted cells. Over 40 million nuclear medicine procedures are performed each year, and demand for radioisotopes is increasing at up to 5% annually. Sterilization of medical equipment is also an important use of radioisotopes. Over 10,000 hospitals worldwide use radioisotopes in medicine, and about 90% of the procedures are for diagnosis.