In order to expand its sources of energy supply, Nigeria is seeking to generate electricity via nuclear power. There are already 2 nuclear research centers at Ahmadu Bello University, in Zaria and another in the capital, Abuja. In June 2008, the G8 expressed concerns over Nigeria's quest for nuclear energy, citing concerns over safety and security. Some G8 members specifically questioned the nation's level of responsibility. Despite these and other issues, on December 3rd, 2009, the IAEA approved Nigeria's application to build a reactor in Abuja.
DETAILS ON THE NUCLEAR POWER PROJECT
Construction is expected to begin in 2011 with power production to begin in 2017. The plant is expected to provide up to 4000MW of energy by 2025. Nigeria's former Minister of Science & Technology insisted in November 2008 that Nigeria's nuclear program will not use foreigners, but would depend primarily on local labor, skills and expertise. In March 2009, Russia signed a nuclear energy cooperation agreement with Nigeria, that provided for domestic uranium exploration and mining. An additional agreement in June 2009 gave Russia access to Nigeria's gas reserves in exchange for the construction of a Russian power reactor and a new research reactor.
THE ISSUES NUCLEAR AMBITIONS PRESENT
Considering the nation's problematic electricity supply, nuclear power will definitely help improve Nigeria's energy issues. Even more importantly, nuclear projects have benefits that go far beyond electricity supply to impact research and development in agriculture, health, science, technology and other key areas that every nation depends upon. Although the cost will be enormous, if done right, the advantages of a nuclear power program will be exponential and and pay off for many years to come.
There is also the question of maintenance. The maintenance of a nuclear reactor cannot be contracted out to private firms as is the case with airports and other installations. Hence, the government would have to commit to adequately caring for a nuclear installation so as to limit a Chernobyl-like incident that puts lives at risk. A first step would be to ensure that the online website of Nigeria's nuclear agency, the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority, is accessible and not a blank page because the domain name expired (as of December 4th, 2009).
The agreement with Russia cannot be ignored. Russia has aggressively tried to control Europe's access to gas and all energy sources that will heat and power the continent and its agreement with Nigeria is a victory that undoubtedly causes some panic in Europe's capitals. Regardless of the power struggle between Russia and its neighbors, one can only hope that this agreement with Russia will not result in a repeat of the space ambition agreement with China. That led to the embarrassing revelation that Nigeria's first space satellite lost power and hurtled back to earth before schedule. Essentially, Nigeria must not enter into an agreement that will put the nation and its people at a disadvantage.
Finally, "wazobia politics" is nothing new to Nigeria. "Wazobia politics", affected intrinsically by tribal issues, was allegedly the reason why it took Nigeria this long to get this close to the construction of an IAEA-approved nuclear power plant. Nigeria's nuclear ambitions began shortly after it gained independence in 1960, and many steps were taken to put Nigeria on the road to nuclear development. However, concerns over what parts of the country would get nuclear research facilities and reactors delayed progress. Currently, the only IAEA-approved nuclear facility is in the northern part of the country and the head of the nation's nuclear agency is also a northerner. These facts coupled with the realities of ethnic tensions in the country, will undoubtedly raise certain concerns from non-northerners. Nigeria would do well to ensure that nuclear power control, development and its benefits will not be limited or seen to be limited to any specific region of the country.
Ultimately, Nigeria's nuclear ambition can be a boost not just to the nation's quest for consistent electricity, but a boost to the economy as well. As long as the commitment is there to follow through with this ambition and do it well, keeping in mind the various political pressures, nuclear power could transform Nigeria and its people.
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