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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why we must embrace sustainable generation of nuclear energy

[For those who may not have read, Kenya has held discussions with South Korea regarding nuclear energy development. Whether any orders will materialize may be a while.]

http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/commentaries/InsidePage.php?id=2000019982&cid=15&

Updated 3 hr(s) 34 min(s) ago
By William Ruto

Many people seem to harbour apocalyptic associations with the term 'nuclear'. Once they hear or read it, they immediately envision the end of the world as we know it. As a result, their knee-jerk reaction is hostile or, at best, totally unreceptive. However, Nuclear Technology is not just about war!

In fact, nuclear technology is already in use in Kenya to solve some of the most pressing problem facing the people, and in every day spheres like agriculture and medicine.

Examples include mutation breeding, which has been used to develop an internationally acclaimed early maturing, high yielding and drought resistant wheat variety in Kenya with tremendous potential to solve food security problems in the Developing World. The technology has been extended to cassava and banana breeding among other crops.

Secondly, radioactive medicine and healthcare, a critical function of nuclear technology, is now being used to treat cancer.

These successes in use of nuclear technology must spread to energy generation to power our industrial revolution and economic growth.

As the world population increases and more countries become industrialised, demand for energy escalates. Kenya has one of the fastest growing populations, with one million additional people every year. 80 per cent of Kenyans depend on wood fuel. Increased power generation would ease the immense and disastrous pressure on our forest and tree cover.

Without a doubt, nuclear technology is the most viable tool to access cheap clean energy on the basis on least cost analysis.

Additionally, if Kenya is to realise industrial revolution and grow the economy by 10 per cent as envisaged in Vision 2030, access to affordable, sustainable and clean energy is no longer an academic matter. A programmatic and strategic consideration of all the benefits of nuclear energy must be the centrepiece of the national development agenda.

Today’s energy options include hydrocarbon based sources (oil, coal and gas), renewable sources ( wind, hydro, solar, biomass and geothermal). Renewable sources indeed ameliorate greenhouse gas emissions and other deleterious impacts, but are expensive and liable to compound the cost of sustainable development.

Hydrocarbon based energy sources significantly contribute to global warming and climate change: in 2008 alone, the top 20 greenhouse gas emitters in the world released 24 trillion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. There is a correlation between leading emitters, and fast-growing economies, implying that energy directly fuels development.

The Kyoto Protocol limits levels of carbon emission per country, while reserve depletion drives oil and gas prices higher as economic growth increases the demand for energy on the other hand. This is the full cycle of the fossil-fuel conundrum; it presents no happy ending in environmental and economic terms. Quite clearly, in very short time indeed, there will be worldwide resurgence of nuclear power out of need, not choice.

It is imperative that Kenya moves with urgency to build full capacity for the sustainable generation of nuclear energy.

That is why the office of the Prime Minister is set to coordinate an inter-ministerial (Energy, Industrialisation, Environment and Higher Education) committee spearheaded by the National Economic and Social Council, and that is just the beginning.

Development stakeholders must change their attitudes towards nuclear technology, and begin to see opportunities instead of threats, development instead of destruction, and blessings instead of disasters.

—The writer is Minister for Higher Education.

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