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Is Nuclear Power Suitable For Ethiopia?

Nuclear energy _ Ethiopia
Image source : Greenpace

Yinebeb Bahru
Kuch, Ethiopia

Ethiopia is the second-largest country in Africa with a population more than 115 million people, 7 years before the 2015 deadline, Ethiopia achieved Millennium Development Goal 4. The under-5 mortality decreased 69%, from 205 deaths per 1000 live births in 1990 to 64 deaths per 1000 live births in 2013. Behind this achievement, the power industry printed a commendable share towards feeding adequate electricity across the country.

Ethiopia is among few Sub-Sahara African countries that are achieving the millennium development goals. Moreover, the United Nation adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – a plan of action for people, the planet and prosperity, aligned to the three pillars of sustainability. To disaggregate the bold ambitions of the 2030 Agenda, the UN agreed on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be used to guide and gauge progress, that exceeds national boundaries and generations of people. It integrates environmental protection, economic growth and social well-being. An important challenge for the SDG is to balance these three dimensions. Energy problems play a defining role in the design of the debate for sustainable development. Production and energy consumption is the focus of economic development and social progress. All forms of energy generation create a form of environmental impact that often include resource reinforcements. In addition, energy policy is often long-term and can be determined for decades of production and consumption use.

According to the World Bank Group, the electricity access of Ethiopia is 50 percent, With abundant untapped energy resources, While the Ethiopian government has started to make major investments in the power sector, many of the country’s homes and businesses still lack access to sufficient power supplies for carrying out productive uses, or even for basic services like lighting. To achieve this plan Ethiopia plan to develop nuclear technology, according to Report newspaper the Ministry of Innovation and Science is drafting two regulations for the establishment of a Nuclear Science and Technology institute and its governing council, in addition, in 2017 Ethiopia and Russia signed a Memorandum of Understanding, this Memorandum specifically details plans to develop infrastructure related to nuclear power, applications of safety regulation for a nuclear plant, and security for the nuclear materials in Ethiopia. Nuclear energy has become an important source of energy because it is seen as a low-intensity carbon energy alternative to reduce environmental pollution. However, nuclear energy has many hazards to both the environment and human life. In this article I will try to address the Pros and cons of nuclear power from Ethiopian perspective:
Pros
High electric output

Nuclear energy is the energy released by a chain reaction, specifically by the process of nuclear fission or fusion in the reactor. The source of fuel used to generate nuclear energy is mined and processed uranium (enriched uranium), which is utilized to generate steam and produce electricity. As of today, nuclear energy is considered one of the preferred energy sources. Nuclear power plants produce high levels of energy compared to most power sources (especially renewables), A relatively small amount of uranium can be used to fuel 1 Gigawatt, it’s enough electricity for a city of about 500,000 people.

Renewable sources, such as solar and wind, provide only enough power to meet residential or office needs. They don’t yet have the capacity of nuclear power to handle large-scale power needs, especially in the manufacturing world.

Job Creation

Ethiopia is a country with over 115 million inhabitants, among them more than 70 percent of the total population is under 30, moreover, the unemployment rate is 22 percent, which causes persistent social and economic inequalities, conflict and forced displacement and declining trust in government.
A nuclear power plant creates so many job opportunities, according to the NEI, a nuclear plant creates 400 to 700 permanent jobs and also thousands of others during its construction.

Reliable Energy Source 

A nuclear power plant can produce energy without interruption and maintenance for several years, making it a more reliable source of energy. Nuclear power plants produce at their maximum power output more often (93% of the time) than any other energy source, and because of this round-the-clock stability, this makes nuclear energy an ideal source of reliable base load electricity for the grid.

Cons

Lack of Skilled human power

Well-educated and highly experienced engineers and scientists are needed to operate nuclear power plants safely. Unfortunately, Ethiopia doesn’t have enough nuclear physicists, Ethiopia would need to spend a lot of investment training to fulfill the required personnel.

High Cost

The construction cost of the nuclear power plant is very expensive and is significantly higher than renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro and solar power plants because of the need to use special materials, and to incorporate sophisticated safety features and backup control equipment. According to France 24 the Debate analysis, in the past decade the cost of nuclear power plants has been decreasing and the renewable energy sources production cost is declining.

Limited Availability of Input

Typical renewable energy sources such as solar, water and wind are in infinite supply. Nuclear energy is not a renewable fuel source. Just like other sources of charcoal, uranium is also finite and exists in a few countries. Uranium is in limited supply although currently abundant. There is still the risk of running out eventually. Uranium has to be mined, synthesized, then activated to produce energy, and it’s very expensive to go through this process. It produces a considerable amount of waste during all these activities and can result in environmental contamination and serious health effects, if not handled properly.

Weapon Treat

Many international media reported, In May 2021 Ethiopian gov’t forces used white phosphorus in the Tigray war, The government of Ethiopia denied a news report alleging that chemical weapons are being used in the troubled Tigray region. This shows that countries that obtain nuclear technology may try to use it to develop nuclear weapons as well as power stations. If the government secretly enriches the uranium to create weapons and harvest plutonium from uranium fuel rods for use in nuclear weapons. Am not saying the Ethiopian government will do this, but there’s still a high risk.

Conclusion

Electricity is a key factor for economic development, lack of electricity does not only harm economic development but also it’s more importantly strengthen gender and wealth inequalities. This shows that electricity is the key factor for social and economic development. Ethiopia should invest more in new electricity plants. Currently, Ethiopia has more than 17 electric power plants, all of which are renewable energy sources, And it is one of the few countries on the planet where 100 percent of power plants are supplied by renewable sources.

Ethiopia has so many huge abilities on renewable energy sources; from the wind more than 1 million megawatts and more than 50,000 megawatts from hydro, this shows that Ethiopia has relatively high advantages in renewable energy sources, When it came to nuclear power, it’s so much difficult for Ethiopia to easily set up nuclear power plants, because of poorly developed infrastructure, lack of proper legal and regulatory framework for ionized radio materials and nuclear protection law, luck of highly skilled manpower on nuclear physics, additionally there is no specific nuclear physics department on Ethiopia higher education institutions, except Addis Ababa University.

In my view, nuclear power plants aren’t recommended for Ethiopia. Not only Ethiopia, even developed countries like Germany are moving to use renewable energy sources rather than nuclear energy sources. I am not totally against the transfer of nuclear technology to Ethiopia, however, In my opinion currently Ethiopia isn’t ready for nuclear technology.

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