“The training of experts in preparation for harnessing nuclear energy in developing countries, particularly Kenya, calls for strategic collaborations with nations that have huge experience in nuclear energy generation”, says Mr Michael Mangala – a nuclear technique expert at the University of Nairobi, Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (INST).
Mr Mangala says that most developing countries lack the required training facilities and experts in nuclear technology hindering efforts to add nuclear energy to the energy mix.
“We will be required to collaborate with countries like the United States of America which has 58 reactors distributed over 19 sites throughout the country and France which generates its 78 percent of the electricity by the Électricité de France nuclear complex,” the academic told The Global Herald.
He said that the Kenyan governments’ step to seek assistance from French public bodies in all areas connected with the implementation of a nuclear energy programme, including education and training, is a leap towards the realization of a nuclear plant by 2022.
“This will accelerate the country’s primary requirement of an Inter-Governmental Agreement to meet its non-proliferation commitments and to comply with international standards in terms of safety, security and non-proliferation,” the don said.
According to INST the collaboration will create a platform for Kenya to embrace best practices in education and training. As the saying goes: a nuclear accident somewhere is an accident everywhere. The 8.9 magnitude earthquake that triggered a tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 140 miles north of Tokyo, sparked fears of radioactive contamination and steered a world wide debate as Germans set a time frame to do away with nuclear electricity generation. INST said that this will push nuclear technology to a higher level.
“This training is expected to afford knowledge of nuclear engineering safety and security of nuclear reactors and fuel plants. Also, in-depth understanding of physical science, technology associated with nuclear power as well as sharing of experience and initiatives,” INST said in regard to Kenya’s collaboration with the likes of France.
Mr Mangala further said Kenya and other developing countries should start forming think tanks that will see the involvement of experts from experienced countries on major nuclear issues and challenges such as role of nuclear fission in the energy mix, waste management issues, proliferation risk, security of nuclear plants and nuclear materials, environmental issues, economic issues, public debates and political decision and legal aspects and regulation towards the formulation centres of excellence on sustainable nuclear energy production.
Mr Mangala calls for a rethink of the education sector to accommodate nuclear training:
“There is an urgent need for ministries of basic and higher education, science and technology to come up with a structured programme to train the teachers on nuclear technology. This will be expected to result in devoted training of university faculty and scholars on nuclear technology implementation. This will require a close working relationship with all stakeholders on the basis of an in-depth analysis of the education system.”
Since the government made public its intention to add nuclear energy to the energy mix it has made strides to constitute the Nuclear Electricity Project (NEP) Committee under the umbrella of the Ministry of Energy. The committee is expected to drive the nuclear electricity generation road map. As a result, there has been an upsurge of the number of students interested in the pursuit of Masters of Science in Nuclear Science at the University of Nairobi, INST.
“This is a testimony that the more ambitious the government and its institutions become the public is ready to ride on the wave of nuclear technology,” INST says.
Energy Minister, Mr Kiraitu Murungi said during the launch of the NEP Committee that the decision to embark on the programme was informed by the desire to reduce dependence on imported energy, the need to increase diversity of Kenya’s energy sources and to reduce the cost of electricity in the long term.
The country has been facing frustrations following the over reliance on fuel based thermal and hydro power generation which is costly and unreliable, against a growing electricity demand, Mr Murungi said.
Besides the Executive chairman, Dr Ochillo Ayacko other members of the committee are scientists drawn from University of Nairobi, the Kenya National Academy of Sciences, National Council of Science and Technology, the INST, power utilities KenGen, Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC), the Ministry of Higher Education, Science & Technology and the National Security Intelligence Services (NSIS).
One of the major mandates of the NEP committee is to review and approve a capacity-building plan targeting young Kenyans with excellent degree qualifications in, but not limited to, mechanical and civil engineering, mathematics, physics and chemistry – for the purpose of nuclear power research and development.
NEP is also expected to carry out a national campaign to educate Kenyans on nuclear energy as most people confuse nuclear energy for nuclear weapons, yet they entail separate technology altogether.
The Energy Minister challenged Kenyans to to support the nuclear electricity power programme as he claims that there is an urgent need to increase the diversity of energy resources in orders to mitigate carbon emissions and lessen the huge energy deficit the country is experiencing.
However, the INST said all of these ground breaking initiatives must respond to international training requirement originating from government agreements, institutional initiatives like International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and industrial relations.
The INST said there is need to create a portal of local students participating in international programs on nuclear technology thus providing an orientation to the most appropriate curricula and advise them during the selection, admission and their participation in industrial processes.
Additionally the INST said there is need to start building a comprehensive panorama of curriculum offerings at each and every level of the nuclear energy high education system (Bachelor, Master, PhD) as well as creating an international network of centers for excellence in nuclear energy.