Nigeria and the Nuclear Security Summit: Matters Arising

World Panorama
with Cletus Akwaya, Ph.D

The  Nuclear Security Summit(NSS) which ended in Washington DC last week has raised to the front burner the important question of the status of Nigeria’s nuclear programme.
Many questions have been asked: Does Nigeria have a nuclear programme? Should Nigeria get involved in nuclear diplomacy? In other words, what are the benefits of Nigeria’s participation in the fourth National Security Summit (NSS) which ended April 1, in Washington DC, USA?

The subject matter of nuclear technology evokes mixed feelings. While the benefits of nuclear technology abound in the pursuit of our national development aspirations, the tendency of rogue states to hide under nuclear technology for civilian purposes to attempt to produce weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is essentially responsible for the apprehension often generated when nuclear technology is mentioned or discussed. There is also the likely health hazards which arise from poor handling or management of nuclear materials. The case of nuclear plant accidents adds to the basket of fears of  others.
It is in this light that the NSS came into being, to provide a forum where international coalition will be built to ensure that radioactive materials used by parties for peaceful nuclear programmes do not get into the hands of criminals or terrorists.
The NSS, a brainchild of US President, Barak Obama was first hosted  in Washington DC in 2010 with 47 countries and international organisations in attendance. In the second Summit which held in Seoul, South Korea in 2012, 53 countries participated. The Summit moved to The Hague in 2014 while the fourth Summit returned to Washington DC on April 1.
In all these Summits various frameworks were adopted to ensure the nuclear programmes for development purposes do not snowball into the production of WMDs and more importantly, international terrorists do not have access to the radioactive materials.
Nuclear technology is gradually assuming center stage in the development of many countries especially the production of electricity.
The US with 100 working reactors leads the pack of 10 countries with substantial production capacities of nuclear power. The others being France, Russia, South Korea, China, Canada, German, Ukraine, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Forty five other countries are at various stages of either conception or development of their nuclear programmes.
In Africa, Egypt has made the farthest progress so far in her nuclear  energy programme having committed her national plans into legal and regulatory infrastructure development. Nigeria, Kenya and Morocco  and Sudan are developing their national plans while Namibia, a high net producer of Uranium, a vital raw material, Libya, Algeria and Tunisia are weighing the development of nuclear power as a serious policy option.
Nigeria’s romance with nuclear technology began in 1976 with the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission which was set up primarily to check the movement of radioactive substances into the country.
For decades however, the country had no serious nuclear programme until 2006 when President Olusegun Obasanjo reinvigorated the sector with the setting up of the Nuclear Energy Regulatory Commission.
In one of the several efforts to boost electricity generation in the country, Nigeria approached the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) for support to develop plans for the production of 4000 MWe of  nuclear capacity by 2025. In 2007, the Federal Government approved a road map and implementation strategy for the nuclear power sector. Under the plan, Nigeria hopes to produce 1000 MWe of nuclear capacity by 2020 and another 4000MWe by 2030.
In the pursuit of this objective, the Nuclear Energy Implementation Committee(NEPIC) selected four sites in 2010 for nuclear projects including Geregu/Ajaokuta in Kogi State, Itu in Akwa Ibom state, Agbaje, Okitipupa in Ondo state and Lau in Taraba state. The Geregu and Itu sites were evaluated in 2014 and confirmed in 2015 as the preferred sites. With the confirmation report ready, The NNRA is expected to issue a preliminary license this year for actual construction to commence.
Nigeria has since 2009 entered into series of agreements with Russia for development of four nuclear power plants estimated to cost $20billion with the first expected to come on stream in 2025.  The Russian company Rosatom behind the project has assured of possible Russian funding sources. Upon completion in 2035, the four plants should produce 4800MWe for the country.
Beyond electricity production however, Nigeria has proceeded with the building of a  nuclear research reactor which was commissioned at the Ahmadu Bello University(ABU) in 2004. The facility is a 30 Kw Chinese Miniature Neutron Source Reactor which uses high-enriched uranium fuel but is converting to LEU.
The ABU project is useful for development of expertise in nuclear technology especially in relation to  medical science, geochemistry, mineral and petrochemical exploration and analysis.
In spite of these significant developments however, very little is known about the progress of  the Of the country’s nuclear programme. This perhaps accounts for the criticism which trailed President Buhari’s presence in the US for the NSS. What this means is that the Nigeria Nuclear Energy Authority should mount a robust public awareness campaign to ensure a buy – in of this serious national development programme.
From the foregoing therefore, Nigeria needed to be at the NSS to secure the goodwill that she needs to proceed with her nuclear energy programme. The absence of Russia at the fourth NSS would have compounded Nigeria’s position  because of the agreements between the two countries for nuclear energy production.
Besides, Nigeria’s  on-going fight against the Boko Haram terrorists makes it  imperative for  the country to support initiatives such as the NSS which objective is to prevent nuclear terrorism.
Going forward however, Nigeria should look beyond Russia for her nuclear energy programme. France which has considerable expertise in nuclear technology and next only to the US in terms of size of international nuclear power production should also be considered.
As the president settles down to confront the multifarious challenges assailing Nigeria’s development, the power sector is clearly one area he cannot ignore.
Dear readers, I regret to inform you that  this column will rest today. I thank you all for your readership over time.