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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

G8 Worried over Nigeria’s Nuclear Programme

Nigeria’s nuclear programme is causing concern among the world’s Group of Eight (G8) nations.
The G8 – comprising world’s most industrialised democracies, the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), Japan, Russia, Italy, France, Germany and Canada – is worried about Nigeria’s ability to handle the safety and security obligations associated with use of nuclear technology.
The US has been leading the campaign against uranium enrichment for nuclear technology by Iran and North Korea, and although Nigeria’s nuclear programme is purely for power generation, the G8 nations are said to be uncomfortable with it.
The Director-General of the Nigeria Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NNRA), Professor Shamsedeen Elegba, said the G8 countries had expressed their concerns over the country's readiness to fulfil safety and security obligations associated with the establishment of nuclear power plant in the country.
The D-G said though the countries agreed that Nigeria needed nuclear power plant for electricity purposes, the concerns are whether the country could adequately ensure safe and secure deployment of the facility.
“Most of them are cynical about our level of safety and some even question our level of responsibility because it is something that just one little mistake, everybody is affected,” he said.
In April 1986, there was a nuclear reactor accident in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the old Soviet Union, regarded as the worst in history, resulting in a severe release of radioactivity into the environment following a massive power excursion which destroyed the reactor.
Thirty people died in the explosion, but further explosions and the resulting fire sent a plume of highly radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area, including western Soviet Union, Europe and as far as eastern North America.
Large areas in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia were highly contaminated, leading to the evacuation and resettlement of over 336,000 people.
The 2005 report prepared by the Chernobyl Forum, led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and World Health Organisation (WHO), attributed 56 direct deaths – 47 accident workers, and nine children with thyroid cancer – and estimated 4,000 extra deaths due to cancer among the approximately 600,000 most highly exposed and 5,000 among the six million living nearby.
Speaking on whether the reservation expressed by the world powers would affect Nigeria's nuclear energy ambition, Elegga said they were only concerned about safety issues which the country was trying hard to address.
“What everybody is worried about is the level of safety because the nuclear industry is highly regulated, just like the aviation sector. It is highly regulated because one accident is too many and therefore everybody is particularly worried about our levels of preparedness, especially the regulatory authorities. They want to be sure that all uses, whether within the country or being transported in and out of the country, are appropriately provided for in terms of safety,” he said.
Elegba said Nigeria had made significant progress in the area of safety efforts, adding that the country had ratified the convention on nuclear safety which meant that “we are bound to comply with all the requirements for safety of nuclear installations in the country. We are also a party to the convention of physical protection of nuclear materials and installation which makes it mandatory on us”.
He said Nigeria was also reviewing her laws to make sure that adequate resources were made available to ensure safety and security of nuclear materials in the country.
The D-G said the target date for establishment of nuclear power plant would be determined after an agreement on the supply of the reactor had been reached with the producers.
“It is after an agreement has been signed with suppliers of nuclear reactors that NNRA can be in a position to issue licence as to where the plant can be sited as well as the design of the building,” he said.
According to him, part of the role of NNRA was to also issue licence for the commissioning and decommissioning of the nuclear power plant.
He said the lifespan of most nuclear power plants is usually 50 years, and the authority is empowered to ensure that adequate preparations are made on how to dismantle the nuclear facility at expiration.
The licence would stipulate among other conditions how to manage the radioactive wastes that come with it.
The D-G said the training programme was meant for front line officers from the various security organisations on safety and security of radioactive and nuclear materials.
Elegba explained that owing to the general concern on nuclear safety, NNRA was emphasising the need to have a Memorandum of Understanding with participating agencies so as to facilitate the integration of safety programmes into the curriculum of various training courses.
“We are working with the security agencies and organisations over the past seven years to ensure that radioactive sources imported, used or transported within the country are kept safe. One of the responsibilities of NNRA is to help improve the competencies of these security organisations,” he said.
He said the first step was to provide them with adequate monitoring tools and then to have an MoU signed between them and NNRA, so that at the end of the day, nuclear safety would be part of the topics to be covered by the agencies in their training schools.

(Source: THISDAY online)

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