Tuesday, April 25, 2017

From Russia With Love; Uganda Nuclear Power Plant

By Esther Nakkazi

On April 19th, the leading Uganda daily newspaper, The New Vision carried on its front page a story ‘Russia to build Nuclear plant for Uganda’. The story went ahead to state that talks about the project are in the final stages.

When I read the story I did not react much but an expat in energy and infrastructure from Holland hung onto the story and was perplexed. He asked me about the Chernobyl disaster and I knew nothing about it but later found time to read about it.

The Chernobyl disaster occurred in April 1986 and is recorded as the most disastrous nuclear plant accident in history. It spilled over the whole of Europe and was costly in terms of cash and casualties. And its still consuming money and causing damage to humans and wildlife.

We could say that the Russians learnt a lot since then and they are the best country to teach us on how to avoid a similar scenario, read- ‘everlasting disaster’ but there are some issues that are so ‘Ugandan’ I do not know that my country can handle nuclear technology, which requires the highest level of safety.

If you travel on Ugandan roads you would be sorry with the level of careless accidents, safety does not exist! If you watch our construction industry you will be alarmed at how buildings collapse half way and kill workers. So you clearly understand that safety is not an issue in Uganda. For the Chernobyl disaster to happen there was among other things an overlap in safety.

If Uganda has to go ahead with this project there some key questions; who will own the nuclear plant? Is it Uganda or Russia?. If it is Uganda do we have the money to sustain it for hundreds of years after the Russians leave? We must be aware that it continues to eat money even when it is generating no money at all. 

The plant will generate radio active waste, which is harmful to people and the environment. Do we have the capacity to handle such waste which causes cancer if it is not well managed?

Where will the it be built? It has to be built near water because it operates with pressurised water, generates steam and needs water for cooling. So I suppose it will be on Lake Victoria or River Nile, all water bodies shared with partner States. The politics of that will be interesting to watch.

Nuclear energy is good so don’t get me wrong. It is the cheapest form of energy and is carbon-dioxide free during production. You can also use its radiation to treat cancer.

But it is also high end technology, requires discipline and I repeat 'maximum level of safety', which at this point I am afraid to say Uganda does not have. So hopefully the Uganda Ministry of Energy officials who are okaying this project have the capacity to question some of these issues and others that I may not mention here before the project takes off.

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