Despite the controversy surrounding nuclear power plants, Kenya plans to have some in 10 years. The Chinese firm has been awarded the contract to conduct the study in Kenya. www.businesstoday.co.ke
Despite the controversy surrounding nuclear power plants, Kenya plans to have some in 10 years. The Chinese firm has been awarded the contract to conduct the study in Kenya. [Photo/Pexels]

In 2017, the Renewables Global Status report ranked Kenya the third country globally in geothermal energy capacity and the first in Africa.

The ranking came after the East African economic hub completed the 29MW addition at the Olkaria III complex in 2016. This latest addition increased the facility’s capacity to 139 MW with the country’s total operating capacity hitting the 630MW range.

Despite the unexploited potential in the renewable energy sector which includes wind and solar, the country has contracted a Chinese company to conduct a nuclear plant site study.

The China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) claims to have trained 29 Kenyans on nuclear energy with all of them graduating with a master’s degree in Nuclear Engineering from top universities in Korea, China and Russia.

Questionable Kenya-China deals

This comes at a time when the country’s leadership decisions are under scrutiny for prioritising projects that do not benefit the citizenry.

In June 2019, the National Environmental Tribunal in Kenya banned the construction and operation of a coal plant in Lamu.

Interestingly, the 1,050-megawatt coal-fired plant was being funded by the Chinese.

The tribunal orders were that plans regarding the coal plant be immediately stopped since there was no public participation. This was a big win for local and international environmental activists in a w*r pitting the government’s bulldozed policies against its people.

Kenya plans to build the nuclear plant in the next 8-10 years with CNNC being contracted to determine the most suitable location in the country.

Currently, the Indian Ocean, Lake Turkana and Lake Victoria regions are the most suitable to host the first nuclear power plant.

The plant site study is expected to cost Kenyan taxpayers KSh1.5 billion (USD15 million) with the Nuclear Power and Energy Agency (NuPEA) saying the three locations were favourable due to the plenty of water they have.

“The coast along the Indian Ocean, Lake Victoria and Lake Turkana are the most ideal sites. Rift Valley is excluded because we need enough water to cool the plant,” NuPEA CEO, Collins Juma, said.

As it is, hydropower accounts for 35 per cent of Kenya’s electricity generation, with the remaining 65 per cent split between geothermal, wind and diesel power.

Opposition to risky nuclear power plants

Greenpeace Africa has opposed the move to set up a nuclear power plant in Kenya saying that such utilities are a risky venture.

The rights organisation says that the risks associated with nuclear power generation both onshore and offshore are too high and that no solution exists to dispose of the generated waste.

Senior Political Advisor, Fredrick Njehu says nuclear power plants pose a substantial risk of a*******s.

He adds that globally, the nuclear power industry is in a decline. “It is a surprise that Kenya is considering energy production technologies such as nuclear power that have been overtaken by the expansion of renewable energy technologies such as wind, geothermal and solar.”

Njehu adds that nuclear power does not have the possibility to make a real contribution to preventing dangerous climate change. “It diverts money that could be better used to support renewable energy initiatives.”

The development comes as President Uhuru Kenyatta commissioned the Lake Turkana wind power project.

“The project is already contributing about 350MW to the grid – enough to power one million homes. Kenya is well-positioned to be a global leader in renewable energy and can easily put the country on a path to transition to 100% renewable Energy by 2020.”

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Currently, renewable energy makes up 70% of the country’s installed electric power capacity.

“Greenpeace Africa is calling on the government of Kenya to move away from coal and nuclear energy ambitions to clean and sustainable renewable energy options. Renewable energy options provide Kenya with many opportunities to fight climate change, meet the energy demands for economic, environmental and social prosperity.”

The organisation adds that investing in renewable energy will enable the country to achieve real energy independence and security without running the risk of degrading the environment and creating complex health issues for the people of Kenya.

Why nuclear energy creates discomfort

Kenya is known for its flagrant a***e of power by those in government.

Just like with the Standard Gauge Railway whose figures were bloated to accommodate and line the pockets of the well connected, the nuclear project will not be immune to these manipulations.

The biggest fear though is taking shortcuts when it comes to big spending projects to enable looting.

When the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan was destroyed by an earthquake and a tsunami, there were still lethal levels of radiation being detected seven years later.

Kenya is lagging behind in terms of adopting technology due to bureaucracy and the ‘big man syndrome’.

The idea of having a nuclear power reactor in the country is misplaced.

What would happen if a d******r in the magnitude of what happened in Japan struck? Sadly, even the most basic d******r responses may take days or even weeks raising the fears further that a reactor in any part of the country is a time b**b.

The country has proven to be incompetent when it comes to d******r management and with the proposed nuclear power plant, only time will tell.

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