Ghana has no choice than to go nuclear
Whereas other economies, essentially the Western economies are millions of miles away from power fluctuations, Ghana just like many African countries is still struggling to keep its head above waters in the energy sector – the energy situation has become endemic. This can be attributed to the diversity in power supply. Contrarily, Ghana only can boast of hydro and thermal power.
In recent times and more particularly in the last few months, Ghanaians have witnessed fluctuations in the supply of water and electricity, everyday conversations have been dominated by the hardships and discomfort caused by these shortages. This has led to unending debate among those sections of the population who are interested in issues of public policy with regard to finding a long lasting and sustainable solution to power supply for both domestic consumption and industrial usage.
The above condition is further compounded by seemingly regular tariff hikes. Ghanaians are paying a high price for this and there are instances of families spending as much as GH¢ 30 a day on diesel for their generators and sometimes as much as GH¢ 200 a month on water. Undoubtedly this burden that is carried by the public commensurate the failure of the Government to commit enough resources to other forms of power generation to enhance our electricity supply which in effect has correlation to water production and distribution.
Nuclear energy is one of the many natural resources that we know how to turn into heat and electricity. It is, by far, the most energy-dense of all these natural resources, meaning we can extract more heat and electricity from a given amount of it than from an equivalent amount of anything else.
Researchers and experts argue that the main fulcrum of Ghana’s economy is hinged on the effective and reliable supply of energy. By extension, if Ghana wants to make massive strides in every endeavour of its economy, then there is the need for her to take a look at nuclear energy. The fact that today many people worry about the short supply of electricity to homes and industries is a clear indication of regression rather than progression in the area of power supply. It must be obvious to all that it is imperative that we embark on a programme to prioritize direct investment in strategic areas such as power generation which will set the pace for rapid industrial growth as it was done by the erstwhile Nkrumah government. To be able to successfully run a nuclear power plant the country needs to consider a number of factors.
CURRENT FISCAL STATUS:
Currently, the economic status of the country is in a bad shape. The economy has seen a free fall of the cedi, staggering against major trading currencies. It is against this background that experts in this field argue it may be unreasonable to embark on such a venture. In the mid to long term however, the gains Ghana stands to reap outweighs the initial cost which will be incurred. In 2007, the cedi was redenominated. The prospect of the country’s economy was bright as the time of redenomination but looked bleak with time. Most industries are now folding up as a result of power rationing and a commensurate disinterest of foreign investors due to high cost in production.
Partisan politics is perhaps the greatest threat in realizing the dream of running a nuclear power plant. Under the Nkrumah-led administration, industrial growth was sparked by the completion of the Akosombo Hydro-electric dam. The Nkrumah government started planning for a nuclear reactor under the Ghana Atomic Energy Project to produce nuclear energy for our then fast-growing emerging manufacturing industries. However, after toppling the Nkrumah administration by a military regime, Ghana has seen a streak of successive administrations which have not pushed the agenda – nuclear power – to the fore. In August this year, the newly reconstituted board of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission was inaugurated, not much has been done to put into motion; Ghana has just declared its intention to go nuclear and a subsequent approval of documents. However, implementation has a long way to realizing. This may be due to sheer political unwillingness. Linked to this is the global power play.
Comparatively, running a nuclear plant is far more expensive than a hydro and thermal power plant. The current theoretical overnight cost of constructing a nuclear power plant is about 2 to 2.5 billion dollars for a plant with two conventional reactors and generating about two gigawatts – a nominally sized plant. In the short term, the cost of building a nuclear reactor is obviously exorbitant. However, in the mid to long term the country stands to reap lots of gains. For instance, Europe's nuclear industry currently employs around 500,000 people, including those in the associated supply chain. In France around 100,000 people are employed in the nuclear industry. In the UK the figure is around 85,000 of which 45,000 work at the power plants and 40,000 in the supply chain. In Finland, around 6,000 people work at the five nuclear reactors.
In the same vein, if Ghana goes nuclear, it means a decline in the percentage of the unemployment rate. Again, there would be an end to the brain drain of nuclear experts the country is currently experiencing.
The use of nuclear energy for power generation is only feasible if we can guarantee the safety of people and the environment. All of our safety measures should be based on a safety philosophy aimed at protecting people and the environment from radioactive emissions from nuclear power plants. Legislation cannot be left out. There is the need to enact strict legislative and operational regulation if we are to see a smooth and vibrant nuclear energy power supply. 'Passive safety features' are the first-line safety mechanisms used in nuclear power plants. Passive safety structures seal in the radioactive materials contained in the reactor core under all operating conditions (including accidents), keeping them separate from the outside environment.
The country stands to benefit a lot if we are to take the path of nuclear energy as an alternative power supply mechanism.