SLOW MATCH TO ENERGY DIVERSIFICATION
To improve electricity generation and supply for domestic and industrial use, Nigeria began the diversification of her energy sources through the implementation of a nuclear energy programme. But, almost two decades down the line, electricity supply has not improved. Supply hovers around 3,500 and 4,300 megawatts. Experts say this is hurting the industrialisation drive and frustrating consumers.
By now, stakeholders in the country’s struggling energy sector must have come to terms with the reality that the envisaged growth in the nuclear energy segment of the power industry has woefully failed to manifest.
The stakeholders, including electricity consumers, power utility firms and industry regulators, are disappointed that the plan to diversify the energy sources through the nuclear energy programme has not boosted electricity supply across the country.
For instance, with supply hovering around 3,500 and 4,300 megawatts (mw), it means that the push to add nuclear energy to the country’s energy mix and, hopefully, improve power generation and supply, has not delivered the desired result almost two decades after the country began the implementation of the nuclear energy programme in 2004.
It also means, by extension, that Nigeria, according to experts, may need to rework the programme and walk the talk on its implementation.
The administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo had in 2004 set the tone for what promised to change the dynamics of the power sector and deliver a robust energy mix. That was when it inaugurated a reactor provided by the Research Department of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State.
Tagged Nigeria Research Reactor (NRR 1), it was developed to improve the skills of Nigerians who intend to go into the production of nuclear energy and allied areas. Apparently excited by the move, the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan also developed interest in the use of nuclear energy.
In 2007, Jonathan, at a Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, Switzerland, said Nigeria was ready to tap into opportunities in nuclear energy to engender the growth of the power sector in particular and the economy generally. Nigerians, he said, saw nuclear power as a means to provide electricity to its teeming population.
Jonathan went a notch higher, announcing that the then Federal Government was committed to negotiating and signing a treaty with multi-lateral orgnisations.
The government of the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua was no less enthusiastic over the prospects of leveraging a vibrant nuclear energy programme to diversify energy sources and improve electricity supply.
At various fora, he urged the country to embrace nuclear energy to meet its growing energy needs, stressing that the idea would help to end the problems in the sector.
Experts, stakeholders back nuclear energy
The Chairman, Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC), Prof Simon Presco Mallam, was emphatic that nuclear energy remained the only option, which the Federal Government must explore to end problems in the power sector and also achieve the much-needed economic growth.
The option, the Mallam explained, has helped South Africa, Russia and other countries to improve electricity supply, as well as their Gross Domestic Product (GDP). He, therefore, advised Nigeria to toe a similar path, if she wanted to achieve significant economic growth.
According to Mallam, Nigeria has set up a roadmap on how to achieve growth in the nuclear energy segment of the power industry, adding that the country has resolved to improve generation through this energy source.
Mallam said: “Nigeria has a roadmap and that is by mid 2020, the country hopes to get a commercial plant and add three more plants in five to 10 years. If all go according to plans, the Federal Government would certainly add nuclear energy to its energy mix in no distant future.”
He said Nigeria has signed both operational and project development agreements with Russia on the generation of nuclear energy. He, however, stressed that both countries were yet to sign any commercial contractual agreements.
The immediate past President, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Dr. Frank Udemba Jacobs, also weighed in on the matter. He said Nigeria must diversify energy sources to hasten the growth of the electricity sector. According to him, Nigeria has a lot of options to choose from in order to improve the quality of life of its people, including nuclear energy.
It is easy to see why Jacobs was pushing for energy diversification. Operators in the manufacturing sector where he holds sway have been agonising over the heavy blow on their productivity and competitiveness dealt by unreliable electricity supply.
The manufacturing sector relies on steady electricity for production of goods and services. But the lack of this critical infrastructure has continued to affect the sector’s capacity utilisation and push up cost of production, forcing many manufacturers to either downsize or lay off their workforce.
Others who could not stand the heat were compelled to relocate to other countries, such as Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo and others, in the sub-region, where electricity supply is relatively steady and regular.
Ambitious nuclear energy targets
According to the NAEC boss, Nigeria targets 4,800 megawatts (mw) of electricity from nuclear energy between 2020 and 2025.
Delivering a speech at a nuclear energy conference in Russia last year, he said Nigeria targeted 1,200 mw by 2020, adding that the country hoped to generate 1,200 mw in four phases, to bring the total to 4,800 mw.
“Our plan right now is for us to be able to generate between 1,000 mw to 1,200 mw, and then up it to four plants of the same capacities. Hopefully, by the time we are done, we would be talking of about 4,800 mw. It is not easy to start all the plants at the same time, considering the capacity to build them and other factors,” he said.
According to Mallam, Nigeria has concrete plans to build its first nuclear plant by mid 2020, stressing that the country was still putting logistics in place to make this a reality.
He said the government had carried out feasibility studies on several areas, before settling on Geregu in the Ajaokuta area of Kogi State and Itu in Akwa-Ibom State.
He added that factors such as possibility of earthquake, flood or volcanoes, easy access to water and topography were considered before the Commission settled on the areas.
Struggling power sector justifies targets
At the current capacity of between 3,500 and 4,300 mw, which is barely enough to power an economy as big as Nigeria’s, the need for the Federal Government to look for means of doubling the production of electricity has never been more compelling.
The former Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, lent credence to this at a stakeholders’ forum in Lagos, recently. According to him, the country has 2,000 mw of stranded electricity, adding that the issue was affecting supply of power across the country.
A report by US-based Energy Information Administration (EIA) also said Nigeria has one of the lowest net electricity generation per capita rates in the world. It noted that electricity generation in the country has fallen drastically, resulting in load shedding and blackouts.
The issue, EIA said, informed the Federal Government’s decision to privatise the power sector in 2013, by unbundling the assets of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). It, however, said despite privatisation, the sector was yet to return to optimal performance.
The EIA said this was what informed the Federal Government’s decision to explore opportunities in nuclear energy.
Slow match to nuclear energy
However, as it turned out, the push to explore opportunities in nuclear energy to increase power generation and also achieve growth has not resulted in any significant improvement, let alone give impetus to the economy.
It was learnt that this may not be unconnected with the huge capital required for nuclear energy. For instance, a nuclear energy plant, according to experts, costs between $15 billion and $20 billion. Besides, because of its huge size, a nuclear plant can only be erected on a huge expanse of land.
The Chief Executive Officer, Rosatom Central and Southern Africa, Dmitry Shornikov, confirmed this. He said that the cost of building a nuclear energy plant is enormous, adding that there is a need to study the market well before venturing into it.
Rosatom, a state-owned nuclear energy institution in Russia, organised the 2019 edition of Atomic Conference and Exhibition. The event attracted more than 3,600 participants across the world, exposing them to new technologies.
Themed “Nuclear for Better Life,” the conference also provided the opportunity for people to keep abreast of developments in the nuclear world. Participants were taught the rudiments of using technologies to improve the operations of sectors in the economy.
Unfortunately, Nigeria was not adequately represented at the conference, a development seen by not a few critical stakeholders as indicative of her lack of commitment to the implementation of a nuclear energy plan.
The former Minister of Science and Technology, Chief Ogbonaya Onu, who represented the country, left unceremoniously minutes later. Other African countries, such as Rwanda, Kenya, and South Africa, were fully represented at the event.
Shornikov said the nuclear energy market was determined by the vagaries of demand and supply, adding that the cost of procuring components of the plant changes a lot.
Listen to Shornikov: “Since nobody has control over the situation in the market, one can, but only buy the components of the plant at a price offered by the producer(s) or supplier(s) of the plant. The price is denominated in dollars and that tells you how expensive the materials are.’’
He said the cost of a nuclear plant is extremely high, despite the fact that the cost of uranium, which serves as nuclear fuel, is comparatively low, when compared with fossil fuels used in powering gas and coal turbines.
On nuclear power plant’s lifespan, Shornikov said the lifespan is usually longer than that of a gas turbine used in generating electricity in Nigeria.
According to him, “Even though the cost of constructing a nuclear power plant is quite high, the cost implications of operating them are quite low. The average lifespan of a modern nuclear reactor is 60 to 80 years.”
The energy expert said a nuclear energy can be modified in order to increase its output, adding that things can be done after the expiration of the plant.
Nigeria, Shornikov said, would save a lot of money yearly on off-grid diesel generation method, when the plant is operational in the country.
Community resentment also sore point
It was also learnt that the people of Itu in Akwa-Ibom State, one of the areas chosen for the construction of a nuclear plant, are not buying the idea. They have continued to kick against the government’s decision to do so.
The President, Akwa Ibom Community, Abuja, Tommy E. Okon, said his people have rejected anything that is not in the interest of the state.
“We reject the plan to build nuclear plant in Akwa Ibom State. We have rejected it before. We are rejecting it now. And we will continue to reject it. The reason is because the negative effects of building of a nuclear plant is higher than the gains,” he said.
Nuclear power myth persists
Shornikov also said there is still much scepticism about nuclear technologies globally. He, however, said the positive perception of nuclear technologies and its beneficial impacts are constantly growing and nuclear technologies are constantly developing.
He said criticism in general stems from the perceived lack of free information about the technology, adding that the myths about disasters and radiation are not based on facts
The expert said the fear of so-called nuclear waste has been debated for 50 years and it is a fact that the nuclear industry is subject to incredibly stringent international and national standards and regulations.
“Moreover, nuclear power is the only energy industry which takes full responsibility for all its wastes and builds this cost directly into the product. International co-operation and systems are also in place to effectively control and track the movement of many materials, including radioactive materials,” Shornikov clarified.
The consensus of experts is that there is nothing wrong with a country like Nigeria having energy mix but in doing so, it should consider economics, security of supply and environmental impact, which are the three important factors necessary when designing the optimum energy mix.
Nigeria currently has three nuclear energy research centres in the University of Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria and University of Port Harcourt. In February, the three centres graduated six nuclear engineers.
In late March, nuclear scientists working for Nigeria’s Centre for Energy Research and Development, Obafemi Awolowo University, the Centre for Energy Research and Training and Ahmadu Bello University threatened to picket the NAEC over unpaid salaries.
Because of this and other aforementioned challenges, a stakeholder in the energy value chain, Professor Eusibus Obiajunwa, warned that “If the trend is not checked now, Nigeria will be lagging behind in the next few years in nuclear programme. The few professionals we have in the sector will migrate to other countries where they are already looking for them.”
Russia sets the nuclear energy pace
Russia’s nuclear energy supply is put at about 149 Tera Watt Per Hour (TWh), which is 15.7 per cent of total Russian electricity output and 5.4 per cent of global nuclear energy production. The total installed capacity of nuclear reactors is 21,244 Mw.
Tera watt offers volumes of electricity that are higher than the ones offered by either giga watt or mega watt of electricity.
The Russian Government has also moved a notch higher, with Rosatom signing technical agreements with countries in Africa, Europe, Middle East and Asia. For instance, Russia, through Rosatom, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Nigeria in 2017, on how to generate nuclear electricity for the country.
Not only has the MoU improved partnership between the two countries, it has culminated in the exchange of ideas on how to adopt, build and use nuclear energy technologies to generate electricity, among using them for other things.
Shornikov, who made this known, said the Russian corporation was aware that Nigeria had been working with the International Atomic Energy Agency as regards nuclear energy development.
He said: “Nigeria is most certainly following all the correct steps to be ready for nuclear power. The Nigerian government has shown firm commitment to introduce nuclear power into its energy mix. We are aware and we commend Nigeria for its work with the agency
“It is a phased and comprehensive method designed to assist countries that are considering or planning their first nuclear power plant. The method splits the activities necessary to establish the infrastructure for a nuclear power programme into three progressive phases of development, with the duration of each dependent on the degree of commitment and resources applied in the country.”
According to him, the completion of each phase is marked by a specific ‘milestone’ at which progress can be assessed and a decision can be made about the readiness to move on to the next phase.
Shornikov stated that his firm had been working with Nigeria for about five years. “A great deal has already been done in terms of the legal framework and educating specialists, both of which are part of the nuclear infrastructure development programme,” he said.
On October 30, 2017, Russia and Nigeria signed project development agreements on construction and operation of a nuclear power plant and a research centre housing a multi-purpose nuclear research reactor on the territory of the country.
The success or otherwise of the agreement with Russia will, however, depend largely on the level of political will on the part of the Federal Government.