Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Nuclear energy project to get Slovakia help

Kenya heavily relies on hydropower for her energy needs and is exploring nuclear power to meet growing demand. Photo/ FILE

Kenya heavily relies on hydropower for her energy needs and is exploring nuclear power to meet growing demand. Photo/ FILE 

By MUTHOKI MUMO [email protected]

Kenya is turning to Eastern European countries in a bid to fast-track production of nuclear energy.

The country hopes to generate at least a fifth of its power needs, estimated at 15,000 megawatts, from nuclear energy by 2030.

To achieve this, Kenya has turned to the government of Slovakia, which on Tuesday said the two countries would conclude a nuclear education and technology transfer pact before the end of this year.

Besides providing expert advice, the Slovaks will from next year offer scholarships to Kenyans wishing to pursue nuclear technology studies in the European nation.

“There have been extensive consultations among experts from both countries. We will offer scholarships to students who will, hopefully, become future experts, working in Kenya’s nuclear plants,” said Slovakia’s State secretary for Foreign affairs, Mr Peter Burian.

Slovakia relies on its four nuclear reactors for more than 55 per cent of total electricity generation.

Meanwhile, Kenya’s Sh250 billion nuclear electricity project is still in its infancy, with the government hoping that it will be completed by 2022.

Nuclear power is supposed to help Kenya bridge its energy deficit. The country generates 1,500 megawatts of power, more than half of which is hydropower.

Low power generation has been a disincentive for some production firms hoping to set up base in Kenya.  In comparison, South Africa produces 40,000 megawatts of power a year.

The nuclear electricity project has faced several setbacks, with concerns that Kenya might not be able to raise the funds needed to see it to completion.

In February, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report that urged the country to forsake expensive nuclear energy dream in favour of more affordable renewable energy. The country is also yet to develop the necessary human resources to sustainably run a nuclear power plant.

According to Mr Burian, officials from Kenya’s Nuclear Electricity Project Committee, including chairman Ochilo Ayacko, have over the past one year toured technical universities in the European nation to learn from best practices.

He was speaking during a press briefing on the ongoing Kenya-Slovakia Development Cooperation Forum in Nairobi. A delegation of Slovaks from various sectors, including infrastructure and technology, have since Monday been interacting with Kenyan government officials with the aim of deepening economic links.

However, closer relations in tourism seem to be slow, with a planned charter plane from Slovakia that was supposed to land in Nairobi in June having been cancelled repeatedly as passengers shied away from Kenya.

The strategy to go after tourism markets in Slovakia and other Eastern European countries was informed by slackening inflows from traditional markets in Western Europe.