By ‘Dotun Akintomide
Shrouded in water-tight secrecy, the $80 billion (N16trn) nuclear plants’ deal signed last October by the incumbent administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has been described by concerned activists’ groups as a looming catastrophe hanging on Nigeria’s civil population, worse than the deadly sect, Boko Haram and its unending holocaust.
According to snippets of the deal agreement with Russia which was only allowed to sparingly filter into the media space, after withholding much of the concrete details, the federal government claimed that Russian state-owned nuclear corporation, ROSATOM will build four nuclear power plants in the South-South state of Akwa Ibom and the Central state of Kogi with each plant estimated to cost $20bn.
Mid-wiving the deal process with ROSATOM on behalf of the Nigerian government is the Nigerian Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC) which has been accused of perpetuating a total media blackout on the signed deal to dampen the reportage of the entire nuclear reactors’ development.
The New Diplomat learnt that another unsettling issue bothers on the lack of consultation with civil societies as well as host communities where the reactors would be built, with no concern for the vulnerable locals raising serious suspicion among discerning public on what could have necessitated the high-level secrecy around the nuclear project if there are no ulterior motives about the plan.
Voicing their profound fears over the nuclear project with a bid to connect local outrage to global campaign against nuclear plants, participants at a workshop organized by the Center for Social Change and Citizenship Education (CENSOCHANGE) in partnership with Journalists Initiative for Sustainable Environment (JISE) kicked against government’s plan to address energy shortfall in the country with nuclear solution.
“While it is commendable that the Nigerian government is interested in options outside of fossil fuels, the recourse to nuclear energy when the rest of the world is walking away from that path is very embarrassing and dangerous,” says Chairman at CENSOCHANGE, Doifie Buokoribo, while expressing his frustration at the move.
Howbeit, with the much-touted energy mix by the Buhari’s administration to explore other renewable power solutions, Nigeria’s power generation still hovers around 4000 Megawatts and according to World Bank’s estimates, the nation’s power deficit exceeds 94,500MW, which has for years stifled Nigeria’s economic potentials.
As for nuclear alternative, asides the danger it portends on the people and the environment after decades of unaddressed despoliation in the Niger Delta, civil society groups are worried that the dismissal 4,800 Megawatts proposed to be generated from nuclear reactors despite the $80 billion lump-sum to be invested – albeit with completion only expected in 2035 – is a far cry when the high power deficit in the country is taken into consideration, in relation to other greener energy sources said to be cheaper and eco-friendly.
To handle nuclear plant, high level of technical know-how and sophistication is often required, despite this, some of the sophisticated economies in the world have had their fare share of nuclear devastation stemming from operational and technological failures – Fukushima in Japan and Chernobyl in Ukraine among other disasters.
In an exclusive interview with The New Diplomat, Iida Simes, a Finnish journalist with expertise in nuclear energy said: “power cuts and cooling failures in nuclear plants could result to serious breakdown in operations which could unleash carnage on the whole environment within seconds.
“Even when they tend to build reactors to perfection so as to eliminate human errors, they still occur.”
She also lamented that managing the highly toxic nuclear waste generated from the reactors poses another threat to human life and environment.
Recall, some 29 years ago after toxic wastes were discreetly dumped at Koko port terminal, Warri North local government by an Italian firm, the devastation foisted on that Delta coastal community remains till date unattended to. Over 30 (out of 173) workers of the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) who joined in evacuating the waste later shipped back to Italy had since died of sundry strange ailments contacted in the process of evacuation. The remainder of the figure who are still being denied of their health compensation claims by the federal government despite in their 70s, 80s now live like capital offenders waiting on the death row.
In December 2016, when this correspondent visited Koko community, the toxic wastes had malnourished the soil where they were dumped. The grass vegetation in the area appeared yellowish and pale with no sign of growth, however, with the deal signed and the nuclear plants’ development to soon commence on Nigerian soil, it seems Nigerians in decades ahead will be forced to deal with another environmental ruin more debilitating in effects than what is currently being witnessed in the Niger Delta after years of oil exploitation.
Also, other concerns that government has been silent about include how Nigeria intends to source $80 billion for the mega investment; implications of Russia making in-road into Nigeria for the development which would last for years; getting the nuclear fuels coupled with Nigeria’s terrorism challenges.
Though, Nigeria joined other 55 countries in signing the anti-nuclear weapons treaty at the United Nation General Assembly in New York, last September, the treaty only prohibites the development of nuclear weapons without addressing the construction of nuclear power plants which has been said to be a precursor to the development of nuclear weapons in most countries where they have been stockpiled.
“The treaty only counts on having nuclear weapons, but may not count on nuclear reactors which Nigeria may end up having,” Simes noted.
Commenting further, she disclosed that “many have argued that the civilian production of nuclear energy is connected to weapons (production). It can be connected and ROSATOM is a company directly controlled by the Kremlin which also controls (Russia) weapons’ production, whether they would ever build them in Nigeria is what I do not know.”
On fears that nuclear plants development can snowball into nuclear weapons capabilities, Simes told The New Diplomat that “although, it’s not easy to separate Plutonium (a radioactive element) from nuclear fuel, but whenever you theoretically develop anything that could be used to generate nuclear plants, then one could be inching towards other dangerous developments.
“Nuclear is a very big investment that’s never profitable for anybody, so I don’t think Nigeria can afford this kind of deal. Basically nuclear industry always need new investment to keep the older ones growing and I think that’s why they want to come to Nigeria. Another reason why Russia is interested in coming to Africa is because Russia is desperately trying to get some standpoints in Africa because Chinese are here and they’re not, so they want to do something about that,” she stated in the interview.
Meanwhile, if the ongoing negotiation on the Paris pact implementation successfully go through, with the U.S, the biggest threat to the agreement finally reversing herself, nuclear investments around the world could be dealt a big blow. Nigeria may also count its losses if it fails to backtrack on this signed agreement with Russia.
Decrying the nation’s nuclear power involvement, the Director of Communications, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Philip Jakpor, through a communique asked the government to halt and completely discard ongoing plans to build nuclear reactors in Nigeria, averring that the “details of the MOU with ROSATOM and its recent signed agreement should immediately be made public and subject to the purview of relevant stakeholders” including the media, civil societies and host communities.
“ROSATOM global track-record in relation to safety standards is abysmal and fraught with questionable procedures including not carrying out Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in some countries,” he said.
While calling on the government to diversify from fossil fuels to safe and clean alternatives which solar panels, wind and hydro offer, Jakpor also demanded that government “ensures proper oversight on the activities of NAEC which seems to have limitless powers in its engagement with foreign governments.”