Nigeria's Nuclear Power Project - Why Solar Power is Better

Nigeria decided against renewable solar energy to invest in two nuclear energy power plants in order to enhance agriculture, advance health, improve education and boost local manufacturing. This is to be executed by the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC) in conjunction with Russian State Nuclear Corporation, Rosatom, for the construction of four nuclear power plants at estimated cost of US$20 billion for a total capacity of 4,800 megawatts by 2035. This bad decision portends a calamitous risk for Nigerians particularly given the secret nature of the deal and the fact that Nigeria is blessed with abundant exposure to the sun and solar energy provides more energy in one hour than the whole world can consume in a year. 

Oh yes, you can read it again, I mean one hour vs. one year! And with continued improvement in solar technology, solar power is becoming more attractive, more competitive and even cheaper than conventional sources of electric power. The attractiveness and affordability of solar power is even more prevalent with portable solar power products.

Nuclear Power vs Solar Energy

In this article I present reasons why Nigeria should abandon this nuclear option in favour of comparatively easy to manage solar energy alternative solutions. I highlight the devastating impact of the Chernobyl nuclear accident on over 7 million people across 3 countries including health consequences, environmental and socio-economic damage in the short run, but also the long term destructive impact that can last for hundreds of years. The conclusion is that for all the expected benefits, the disastrous fall out of a mishap relative to alternatives, can never be fully predicted. 

Whereas there's no mention of the nuclear power MOU on NAEC's website, Press Service of Rusatom Overseas confirmed the deal on their website noting that on October 30 2017 in Abu-Dhabi "Russia and Nigeria signed agreements on construction and operation of a Nuclear Power Plant and a Research Center housing a multi-purpose nuclear research reactor on the territory of Federal Republic of Nigeria. The parties also signed a roadmap for cooperation in the field of peaceful usage of nuclear technologies."

This secretive deal is causing a lot of raised eyebrows in Nigeria. The last press release the NAEC's website was in July 2007 about "Diversifying the Energy Mix; A case for Nuclear Energy". The last News and Events update was sometime in 2009, perhaps August per pictures on the page. If the NAEC can't manage a website, how can they possibly manage a nuclear power plant? What a Joke?!

It is rumoured that the NAEC selected Itu, Akwa Ibom State, and Geregu, Kogi State, as sites for two nuclear plants each with two nuclear reactors, with a combined capacity of 2,400 megawatts each. Due to the lack of transparency and the secretive nature of the deal, it has been difficult to officially validate this. The estimated cost of each of the two the plants is USD 10 billion for a capacity of 2400 MW. This is not cost effective when compared to the Ouarzazate Solar Power Station in Morocco expected to cost UD$9 billion on completion and produce up to 580 MW of electricity. 

Nuclear power is extremely technically challenging, risky, dirty and expensive. And that includes management of radioactive materials.

Concerns About Nigeria's Nuclear Power Project

The first thing that comes to mind is the massive public uproar in June 1988 when toxic wastes were dumped in Koko, a farming town in Warri, Delta (then Bendel) State, Nigeria. At a press conference in Lagos reported by nigerianobservernew in March 2017, the Executive Director of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo lamented about continued dumping of toxic wastes in Koko. He noted that "in 1987 an Italian businessmen Gianfranco Raffaeli and Renato Pent, of the Waste Broker firms Ecomar and Jelly Wax respectively, signed an illegal agreement with an unsuspecting Nigerian businessman, Sunday Nana, to use his property for storage of 18,000 drums of hazardous waste for approximately $100 a month."

One expects that a nuclear power project project of this magnitude would be thoroughly discussed publicly and information made freely available. In 2013, the United Kingdom Department of Energy and Climate Change engaged Rosatom in a programme commercial cooperation in civil nuclear energy. The MOU was published by the UK government and is publicly available. Why is Nigeria's MOU with Rosatom not so available? The BBC's report on this flagged safety record concerns and reactions such as
  1. rigorous scrutiny through established regulatory process
  2. anti-nuclear protest group protests
  3. critics of nuclear power claimed the Rosatom oversaw Chernobyl when it was hit by nuclear disaster in 1986.
  4. Rosatom defended its safety record, pointing out that it was involved in building 14 reactor projects across the world
Other concerns and questions that must be answered include:
  1. How was Rosatom selected as the technical/operating partner? 
  2. What assessment of safety records was done?
  3. Where exactly will the nuclear stations be sited?
  4. What will the lifespan be?
  5. What public debates or consultations were done with civil society, media, local community organisations, etc? When and where? 
  6. What judicial/constitutional process was followed?
  7. What infrastructure support are in place for the nuclear power plants?
  8. What is the extent of guarantee by Rosatom?
  9. Who will bear cost of any nuclear explosion, fire, spillage, leak of radioactive gases and chemicals?  
  10. What happens if radioactive materials are dispersed across Africa as was the case in Fukushima and Chernobyl?
  11. If there's reactor or equipment malfunction resulting in a shutdown and extensive repairs, who'll bear the cost?
  12. Who will be the key local players?
  13. How many jobs will it create relative to alternatives that are readily available like solar energy?
  14. What is the risk exposure and environmental impact assessment for local communities? What about potential residual risks and ancillary disasters like public panic, pregnancy anomalies, Down syndrome, other degenerative and terminal health problems and premature deaths. The Nuclear Energy Agency suggests that radioactive damage will be present in the local area for approximately 300 years.
  15. What will be the ongoing management plan?
  16. What technical support will be available in future for the maintenance and what will it cost?
  17. What nuclear disaster emergency evacuation plans are embedded in the contract?
The questions are just far too numerous and in view of a lack of transparency, basic infrastructure and standard emergency response at normal times, it is scary to think of what might happen if there's a nuclear emergency. 

Rosatom's safety records have been called into question. Concerns about poor quality control and safety, non-transparent procedures, insufficient resources, and on-site accidents have been highlighted. In 2014 Greenpeace International published a report on Rosatom Risks: Exposing the Troubled History of Russia’s State Nuclear Corporation. The summary is that "Rosatom is a questionable business partner, plagued by concerns over corruption, the safety and quality control standards of its nuclear reactors, its competence at building and operating nuclear plants, its model for financing projects, and concerns over its ability to complete construction on time and on budget." 

A 2017 update by Greenpeace concluded that "recent developments have only confirmed its general conclusions. The developments in Russia and Finland show that concerns about proper quality control and safety are justified. The machinations around project financing in Turkey and Hungary confirm the financial risks attached to developing nuclear power with Rosatom, and the steady interaction between global politics and the project development in these countries illustrate perfectly the risk of political dependency. Nuclear power development with Rosatom – and others – is not alone risky from a
financial, safety, political and security perspective, but also because clean, safe and cheaper energy sources exist. Nuclear energy is an unnecessary risk at all times." This conclusion raises further concerns about Nigeria's shady deal.

How Safe is Nuclear Power

There's no doubt about the fact that nuclear power plants cause environmental pollution. Recent nuclear and radiation incidents around the world exemplify the real risks associated with nuclear energy. One expects that lessons learnt from past nuclear mishaps should help prevent future disasters. But I think that depends on whether or not everyone is paying adequate attention. The best prevention strategy is not to build more nuclear power plants. 

There have been many nuclear incidents and accidents which have caused varying degrees of known and unknown problems. However I want to focus on the two most popular ones. I have selected them to demonstrate that problems can be caused by human error and natural disasters hence remain unpredictable. I highlight the nature of unpredictability, risks and amount of damage they can cause relative to the benefits of nuclear power and alternative energy sources that can deliver the similar benefits. 

Fukushima, Japan 

On March 11, 2011 natural disaster (earthquake and Tsunami) resulted in radiation from damaged reactors contaminating a wide area surrounding the plant and forced the evacuation of 160,000 to 500,000 residents. The mass evacuation covered an area of 20-30 km including uninhabitable land and and billions of dollars in economic losses. There are ongoing concerns about continued release of further radioactive materials and difficulties with managing the damaged reactors. Many people evacuated from the nuclear disaster zone remain unable to fully return home due to risk of radiation exposure. The World Nuclear Association notes that January 2017 estimates indicate that it will cost about US $191 billion to remove the nuclear fuel debris. Meanwhile 2015 estimate for accident liability and compensation was USD 1.5bn. And in 2014 the government estimated that it would take JPY11 trillion (circa USD 100.7bn as of January 2018 estimates) and 40 years, to clean up the Fukushima site. In reality, the total cost of recovery is unlimited.

Chernobyl, Ukraine (former Soviet Union aka Russian Empire)

On April 26 1986 the worst ever nuclear disaster occured in Chernobyl (old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) aka Soviet Union). A systems test triggered explosions that caused prolonged atmospheric release of large quantities of radioactive materials. This had serious radiological, health and socio-economic consequences for the immediate population and surrounding countries. 

About 350,000 people were evacuated within a 30 km zone but significant radiation impacted the environment over much wider area. Up to 600,000 people were involved in the clean up that failed disastrously. Ukraine, Belarus and other parts of Russia, France and the rest of Europe and Canada received substantial amounts of radiation exposure after the Chernobyl disaster. This resulted in increased cancer, DNA mutations and other abnormalities suffered by people from the area. Many still suffer the effects today. Land, water and agricultural produce were, and some remain contaminated today. Estimate for the Shelter Implementation Plan (just to cover the site - Unit 4 - and TRY to contain ongoing dissipation of radioactive materials) is  €2.15 billion

Cost of relocation and resettlement of about 137,000 people from contaminated areas was projected to be US$2.2 billionYou can expect these costs to continue to rise, in addition to other costs of managing the whole site. Chernobyl Forum report indicates that about 7 million "Chernobyl victims" mainly from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine have been listed as people who have right to various benefits and claims. The socio-cultural, political and economic costs remain unfathomable. Twenty-five years after the incident, restriction orders remain in place in the production, transportation and consumption of food contaminated by Chernobyl catastrophe.

It is troubling that Nigeria's Nuclear Power deal is enshrouded in mystery as the agreement was signed in Dubai rather Nigeria.  How it can be said to be environmentally friendly is impossible to understand. Nigeria is not prepared for nuclear technology. Civil society activists accuse the government of ramping up its efforts to introduce nuclear energy and getting in bed with Rosatom without carrying the citizens along. For instance, efforts to know the details of the agreement signed with Rosatom remains futile. This is recipe for absolute corruption. 

Key Risk Indicators for Nigeria's Nuclear Power

Population at risk

The immediate population at risk in Itu, Akwa Ibom State is 161,572 (4,931,020 for the State) based on 2013 estimate. The population of Geregu, Ajaokuta, Kogi State is 150,346 (4,063,492 for the state) extrapolated from 2008-2011 projection (page 44) estimate. This implies that a major nuclear disaster will immediately affect 300,000 to about 9 million people in the immediate and surrounding areas. What might the cost of emergency evacuation be? And in view of Fukushima and Chernobyl, what might be the cost of displacement compensation, health insurance, relocation and other public liability? What about the cost of decommissioning or removal or nuclear debris from the area? Note that the Fukushima initial clean up and liability cost estimate was USD 293.5 bn. 

Environmental risk

The immediate environment is likely to suffer damage that may last for well over 300 years like at Chernobyl. Evidence from crude oil spillage in Nigeria's Niger Delta region proves that Nigeria is hopelessly unable to manage environmental pollution.  Do we really want to add nuclear pollution despite all the concerns? 

As a result of this failure to combat “blood oil” disaster in the Niger Delta,  environmental pollution, compensate local communities, etc; local militias like the Niger Delta Avengers have stepped up their war against the oil giants and the government. Can Nigeria risk similar militant groups springing up elsewhere because of damages from nuclear pollution? The kinds of weapons being brandished are increasingly alarming and the situation is getting out of control.

War Against Corruption

The government take pride in its efforts to fight corruption. Key corruption indicators are bribery, embezzlement/fraud, nepotism, abuse of power, and lack of transparency. Conditions favourable for corruption are information deficit, lack of monitoring by civil society, socio-cultural factors like cronyism, tribal solidarity, nepotism, discrimination and bullying.
Transparency International promotes practical tools that reduce opportunities for corruption. One such tool is the 10 Anti-Corruption Principles for State-Owned Enterprises which includes
  1. Operate to the highest standard of ethics and integrity
  2. Ensure best practice governance and oversight of the anti-corruption programme
  3. Be accountable to stakeholders through transparency and public reporting
  4. Ensure human resources policies and procedures support the anti-corruption programme
  5. Design the anti-corruption programme based on thorough risk assessment
  6. Implement detailed policies and procedures to counter key corruption risks
  7. Manage relationships with third parties to ensure they perform to an anti-corruption standard equivalent to that of the SOE
  8. Use communication and training to embed the anti-corruption programme
  9. Provide secure and accessible advice and whistle blowing channels
  10. Monitor, assess and continuously improve implementation of the anti-corruption programme
One can readily conclude that the lack of transparency and information about the Nigeria nuclear power project is a precursor to absolute unbridled corruption. This completely negates the government's campaign promise/efforts to fight corruption. 

Lessons to Learn

Although discussions with Rosatom has be ongoing since 2009, the lack of detailed information about it in Nigeria in an indication of problems in the future. 
  1. The Western Cape high court in Cape Town, South African annulled initial agreements the government reached on nuclear power stations with Rosatom.'s news report confirms that in the case brought by environmental activists, the court ruled that deals were unlawful because the government had not followed due process and had failed to hold public hearings and obtain parliamentary approval. The court further noted that the government gave Russia special favours including indemnity for nuclear accidents and favourable tax treatment.
    This has to be the result of failure to uphold standards of transparency. It paves the way for the opposition to freely and rightfully level accusations of corruption. It seems the clouds are gathering for the Nigerian version.

  3. Another lesson to learn is that any company bidding for contracts has a responsibility to ensure that no constitutional process is breached. They must also ensure that due process in followed in a transparent manner at every stage of the contract. 
  5. Greenpeace Africa campaign manager, Melita Steele noted that "It's also never safe, hugely expensive and will deliver far too little and far too late". I am further concerned about how the radioactive and other nuclear wastes will be managed and made safe. I can't stop thinking about the furore in Nigeria in 1998 when news broke about the Koko community toxic waste.
  7. A nuclear power plant needs a stable national electricity grid to function. Nigeria does not have this. In January 2010, The Centre for International Governance Innovation published a paper by Nathaniel Lowbeer-Lewis titled "Nigeria and Nuclear Energy:Plans and Prospects". On page 7 he noted that "The size and configuration of the national power grid is essential to the implementation of a nuclear power plant. Nuclear plants are most efficiently run as base-load generators, and thus require constant demand. Second, reliable independent power is necessary to safely operate a nuclear power plant; an electric grid that can guarantee the supply of stable, off-site power is required to begin construction". On page 8 he correctly concludes that "Nigeria has made limited progress in developing the supportive institutions and infrastructure required for a nuclear power program". He further noted that "widespread corruption and decrepit infrastructure pose significant obstacles to the successful construction, operation and maintenance of a nuclear power plant." And that "efforts to build regulatory and human capacity will facilitate faster construction of a plant when the larger infrastructure components are in place". That remains the case. Nigeria needs to focus on capacity building.
  8. Juxtaposing the Fukoshima disaster evacuation with Nigeria's nuclear power plants, I estimate that about 9 million people in Nigeria will immediately be put in harm's way. With such population density, one wonders why and how these locations were selected as appropriate places to site nuclear power plants. Granted, the scale for the Nigeria power plants may be much smaller, but on a whim of a 10% cost possibility, will Nigeria be able to afford USD 29.4 bn liability on two nuclear power projects that will cost USD 10 bn each?
The key lesson learnt from history is that public authorities in various countries were never sufficiently prepared to deal with big nuclear accidents. Unfortunately, the losses suffered (and which some continue to suffer) exposed deficiencies in emergency planning and preparedness in many countries that were affected. Is Nigeria and surrounding African countries able to deal with a nuclear disaster? I think not! Better to worry about normal developmental planning than emergency planning for a nuclear accident. We don't want Fukushima version 2 or Chernobyl 2.0.

Posted by @EHOkoli. Also connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn


  1. I give up on African (Nigerians in this case) folk to be honest. Like why would you sign such a delicate deal when you've not provided your citizens with the 3 basic things a government should provide: national electricity grid, roads and aqueducts.

    Also, how did they get the $20B figure? More importantly, who's footing the bill? It would be depressing if not only the Russian essentially gain strategic leverage over Nigeria, but also not pay the entire sum. So Nigeria basically loses twice. From an ecological standpoint, this has disaster written all over it. I don't want to jinx it, but the poor governance of African leaders is not really reassuring.

    Nuclear power plants are meant for countries who have already provided the basic to their people and want to utilise the surplus to gain even more. But that is not the case here, here we have a few politicians who are too short-sighted to realise that a few millions is not enough to guarantee the well being of your fellow countrymen.

  2. They want to chop alone and kill all the people by pretending to solve one problem but create something worse. Is it corruption or ignorance + stupidity?

  3. This is really awesome and beautiful.
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