There’s nothing cheap or clean about nuclear power option; ask the Japanese

Thursday December 29 2011

By WALTER ODHIAMBO

Both print and electronic media have of late been dominated by news features and documentaries highlighting the efforts Kenya is making towards developing nuclear energy.

The reports attributed to the Nuclear Electricity Project Committee (NEPC), chaired by Mr Ochillo Ayacko, paint a romantic picture of nuclear energy and promise nuclear power by 2022.

The NEPC warns of the energy deficit facing Kenyans and projects that the country will have to generate about 25 per cent of its energy needs from nuclear plants if Vision 2030 is to be realised.

A further justification stated by among others, Mr Francis Maliti, the director of Vision 2030 in charge of manufacturing, is that nuclear energy is clean and cheap (at least in the long run).

These nuclearphilics argue that “although capital intensive, nuclear energy is an attractive option that Kenya cannot ignore”.

However, these experts are not telling Kenyans why the great industrialised countries like Germany, Switzerland and now Japan are phasing out this “clean and cheap nuclear energy option”.

To refer to nuclear energy as clean is a great fallacy or simply a display of fatal ignorance. Nuclear power plants produce radioactive waste, whose disposal is a nightmare even for the developed countries.

It is not possible for any sincere group of “experts” to deliberate on nuclear energy without reference to the problem of radioactive nuclear waste material disposal.

In addition to the disposal problem, nuclear power plants require an enormous amount of water to cool the heating rods. Not only is the supply of this water a problem, but its discharge into the surface water bodies is a major threat to the ecosystem.

Any discussion of nuclear energy, and therefore nuclear power plants, is grossly inadequate and deliberately slanted if it fails to address the reality of possible nuclear accidents such as happened at Chernobyl in Russia in 1986, and recently in Fukushima, Japan, following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Japan nuclear power plants were badly damaged and despite its technological advancement and experience with atomic energy and radiation, the Japanese are still struggling to contain the radioactive leakage from one of the plants in Fukushima.

The residents of the surrounding area are exposed to radioactive foodstuff, radioactive water and they breathe radioactive air.

Mr Ayacko’s team may avoid mentioning these effects of nuclear energy, but the reality is that even now, there are several drugs that can treat cancer and would be in use, were it not that the patient may die of their adverse effects long before cure.

Similarly, the prospect of nuclear power may be exciting, but the tragedy of radiation is that it travels far and wide, not only in physical distance, but it also traverses genetic frontiers into generations yet unborn. Our great grandchildren will carry birth defects attributed to our misadventure.

Of course, as the developed world opens its eyes to the dangers of nuclear radiation and turns to safer and cleaner energy alternatives, this second-hand technology is becoming cheaper and more readily available.

Unfortunately, Third World countries, like Kenya, will be the dumpsite of the vestigial technology, with the usual international brokers waiting in the wings to make a killing from the mitumba.

The NEPC team must offer Kenyans more convincing arguments in support of their project and this should be subjected to scrutiny by an independent group with no stake in the business.

It is well-known that the nuclear energy option has been dangled as a bribe by the nuclear weapons states: “Keep off the nuclear weapon and we shall give you the nuclear energy technology”.

For a country like Kenya that cannot even manage garbage collection in its cities, the question is, where shall you dump the nuclear waste?

This is an important social responsibility question for which I believe majority of Kenyans, if they know the truth, will answer ‘Not in my neighbourhood!’

Dr Odhiambo is a lecturer at the University of Nairobi and a member of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War ([email protected])