Kenya faces an uphill task of meeting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recommendations as it pushes ahead with ambitions to build a 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plant.
Being one of a handful of African countries set to invest in nuclear power for peaceful purposes, Kenya has shrugged off the controversies, fears and security concerns associated with the nuclear technology, vowing to build a plant that will eventually produce 4,000MW when complete.
While IAEA, the international organisation that is responsible for promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy, has given the Kenyan programme the green light, meeting a number of critical infrastructural issues will determine the success of the project.
In a detailed report, the IAEA says that the success of the nuclear programme is pegged on Kenya’s ability to mobilise financing for the project, enacting a watertight regulatory framework, guaranteeing on radiation protection, investing in a strong grid, guaranteeing security, managing radioactive waste and building a base of well-trained human resource, among others.
“Having a clear view about these issues will ensure that the nuclear power programme will bring the desired benefits to the country,” notes the Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review report which The EastAfrican has seen.
Prepared by a team of IAEA experts, the report has become the guiding roadmap that Kenya is using as it pushes ahead to build the plant by 2027 at an estimated cost of $5 billion, which could shoot to $8 billion by the time the country starts production.
But while the country faces a herculean task to adhere to the IAEA terms, it has made little progress in taking a collective national position on whether the country really needs the plant, site identification and plant ownership.
Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board (KNEB) managing director Collins Juma however contends that the country has made significant progress towards building the plant that is critical in increasing the country’s electricity generation capacity and in helping drive industrialisation.
“Our target is to have the plant in place by 2027 and so far we have finished the prefeasibility study on the critical infrastructure issues identified by IAEA,” he told The EastAfrican.
He added that despite some reservations on whether Kenya needs a nuclear plant, investing in the project is crucial considering the country needs sufficient and cheap electricity to power its industrialisation ambitions under the Vision 2030 blueprint.
In including nuclear in the Least Cost Power Development Plan (LCPDP), a power sector long-term development plan, Kenya had projected electricity demand would increase from 1,300MW in 2008 to 18,000MW by 2030.
In the LCPDP, Kenya also identifies geothermal, hydro, wind, solar and coal as the other energy resources to be exploited.
Apart from geothermal whose potential is estimated at 10,000MW, it has become apparent that Kenya cannot bank on wind and solar while controversies surrounding coal makes it less attractive.
“Nuclear was also proposed as a clean energy meaning that if we are a country that wants to industrialise we need nuclear,” said Mr Juma.
He added that the basis of a 1,000MW nuclear plant was based on a GDP growth rate of eight per cent annually.
These projections, however, are increasingly becoming untenable, with GDP levels of around five per cent failing to hit the expected mark and the country being forced to abandon or slowdown on some energy projects due to suppressed electricity demand.
Over the past five years, Kenya has managed to add only 710MW to the national grid, increasing the country’s total installed capacity from 1,600MW in 2013 to 2,370MW currently.
Due to low demand, the government has been forced to adopt a lukewarm approach in the implementation of flagship energy projects, something that explains why KNEB has been complaining of lack of sufficient funding.
“Lack of enough funding has slowed us down significantly but we have a roadmap of what we intend to do with the support we get from the government,” said Mr Juma.
According to the IAEA report, to succeed in implementing the project Kenya must come up with a financing model that identifies potential financiers and ownership options, draft a single bill that covers all nuclear regulatory matters and also review all laws touching on the nuclear power programme.
The process of putting in place the prerequisite regulatory framework is ongoing, albeit at a snail’s pace with the drafting of the Nuclear Regulatory Bill which is yet to be tabled in Parliament.
IAEA also reckons that Kenya should identify ways to enhance existing radiation protection programme, assess the emergency preparedness and response requirements and assess the suitability of fuel cycle options.
The country should also assess the suitability of radioactive waste management options for processing, handling, storing and disposal of different radioactive waste types, designate a competent authority that will develop the national threat assessment and develop a national human resource development strategy for the nuclear power programme.
In terms of security, something that is at the heart of nuclear, the IAEA contends that while Kenya has several agencies dealing with security issues including the Nuclear Security Co-ordination Centre that is within the Radiation Protection Board, the security measures need enhancing.
“Kenya should designate the competent authority that will develop the national threat assessment and a design basis threat assessment for the nuclear power programme,” notes the report.
The report adds that Kenya must also plan accordingly for issues like emergency preparedness and response, environmental protection and stakeholder involvement.