Dr David Otwoma is chief scientist and secretary to the Kenyan Nuclear Electricity Project (NEP) Committee, which is charged with the responsibility of harnessing nuclear energy for Kenya by 2022. Dr Otwoma had an interview with The Global Herald on the steps they are making as well as the various challenges they are out to overcome for this dream to become a reality.
Q. As a result of the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant crisis, Germany as a country is withdrawing from nuclear energy altogether by 2022. As a country that is breaking into this energy sector what is your take?
A. “First and foremost the Japanese minister called residents near the nuclear power stations and other people in Japan to understand that electricity restraint is the largest issue for the growth of Japan’s economy.
“He counselled them to allow the restart of nuclear power stations for the future development of the Japanese economy. The minister promised to visit the regions where nuclear power stations are located to explain the situation and ask for restart of the facilities.
“Secondly, Germany’s grid is interconnected to that of European Union members (25 countries) and since electricity can be purchased from say France (whose consumption is more than 70 percent nuclear energy) they can afford to close all their nuclear power plants and rely on electricity from elsewhere. Japan cannot do that!
“Thirdly, Japan and Germany generate more than 120,000 megawatts (MW) which are both developed unlike Kenya which aims to be a middle level economy by 2030 (not even a developed country). It may be better to compare ourselves with countries which have emerged from underdeveloped to developed status, example South Korea which was generating 2,600 MW in 1971 is now generating close to 80,000 MW. Nuclear energy has turned the tables.”
Q. Some experts are saying Kenya is not ready to harness nuclear energy by the stipulated time frame of 2022; what is your position?
A. “We need to have workshops which can enable the public to listen to arguments of both those who are for and against before having a perception. We are willing to host workshops and invite the public as observers.”
Q. On the same note some experts are suggesting that Kenya should exploit green energy, such as wind, solar and geothermal before considering nuclear, what is your opinion?
A. “The Least Cost Power Development Plan (2011 to 2031) shows that we need to have installed a capacity of more than 17,000 megawatts (MW). Yes, we do have a geothermal potential of 7,000 MW but currently we are producing about 210 MW.
“For us to industrialize, we need a huge base load which can be obtained from coal, nuclear, oil and geothermal. Even if we exploited the whole of geothermal potential where do we get the balance of 10,000 MW? Wind, solar, hydro are good for peaking (not base load) and hence are not reliable for industry (which needs an assured base load 24/7). Are we suggesting that our industries should close when the sun goes down, the wind stops blowing and/or the rain stops falling?”
Q. How viable is nuclear energy in comparison to other sources?
A. “Just for base load sources (that is coal, geothermal, oil) nuclear compares favorable.”
Q. Have you identified the site of the nuclear plant, if so where?
A. “We are in the pre-project phase – where we are carrying out a pre-feasibility study, first, so that we can make a knowledgeable commitment towards nuclear power. Once we are done with pre-feasibility study which in some countries took 12 months and others more we can embark on phase two which will incorporate carrying out a feasibility study. The feasibility would include site surveys, characterization and selection. When the selection is done everyone would know where the site is!”
Q.What about the deposit of the radioactive waste? (Where and how)
A. “During the pre-feasibility study, feasibility study, construction, operation and decommissioning of the nuclear power plants the issue of radioactive waste management will always be kept alive. Countries like France who are operating more than 59 nuclear power plants for electricity generation plan to make a decision on depository of high level radioactive waste in 2025, others like USA who have in excess of 104 nuclear power plants are yet to make a decision. No country has made a decision on the final repository of high level radioactive waste so the where for Kenya is very pre-mature. The how waste is stored we can learn from other countries that operate nuclear power plants.”