By Ben Ezeamalu
Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy company, Rosatom, has continued its march towards launching multi-billion dollar nuclear power plants in Nigeria despite concerns about poor quality control and safety, PREMIUM TIMES can report.
Operating in over 40 countries with projects worth an estimated $133 billion, Rosatom has a history of non-transparent procedures, insufficient resources, and on-site accidents, a 2017 report by Greenpeace, an independent global campaigning organisation, highlighted.
The report, ‘Rosatom Risks: Exposing the Troubled History of Russia’s State Nuclear Corporation,’ highlights a string of sharp practices as well as accidents on the sites of Rosatom projects in four European countries.
For instance, at its Leningrad 2 construction site in Russia in July 2015, a sling snapped during the lifting of 70 tonne protective pipes and the pipes fell from 20 metres height into a spent fuel pool. The accident resulted in a six-month delay of the project.
At a meeting in Abu Dhabi in October, 2017, Russia signed an agreement with Nigeria to build and operate a nuclear power plant, the first of its kind on the continent, as well as a research centre that would house a nuclear research reactor.
The agreement was a furtherance of a memorandum of understanding signed last year between the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission, NAEC, and Rosatom for the construction of four nuclear power plants at the cost $20 billion (more than N6 trillion). The four plants will have a total capacity of 4,800 megawatts by 2035.
Anton Moskvin, Vice President for Marketing and Business Development, Rosatom Overseas (a subsidiary of Rosatom), and Simon Mallam, Chairman of NAEC, signed the agreement on behalf of Rosatom and Nigeria respectively.
“The development of nuclear technologies will allow Nigeria to strengthen its position as one of the leading countries of the African continent,” Mr. Moskvin said at the ceremony.
“These are the projects of a large scale and strategic importance, that will determine the relationship between our two countries in the long term.”
Nigeria has been a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency since 1964, more than a decade before it established its atomic energy commission aimed at promoting and developing its nuclear technology.
But its nuclear relationship with Russia did not begin until 2009 when both countries signed an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the field of the peaceful usage of nuclear technologies. Shortly after, another agreement was signed on cooperation in design, construction, operation and decommissioning of the Nuclear Power Plant and the Nuclear Research Centre housing a multi-purpose nuclear research reactor.
In 2013, Nigeria signed its Country Programme Framework (CPF), a five-year medium-term planning of technical cooperation between a member state and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that identifies priority areas where the transfer of nuclear technology and technical cooperation resources will be directed to support national development goals.
The IAEA is an international organisation that seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and prevents its use for any military purpose such as nuclear weapons.
In June 2015, the Nigerian government invited five IAEA experts to review the country’s emergency preparedness to nuclear and radiological accidents as it begins to ramp up its efforts to add nuclear electricity to the energy mix.
“Nigeria clearly showed that it understands the importance of being well prepared to respond to nuclear or radiological issues when it requested this EPREV (Emergency Preparedness Review) mission,” said Denis Flory, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of its Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, at the end of the 10-day inspection.
“This is a cornerstone of nuclear safety. The IAEA is very pleased to assist Nigeria in identifying strengths and opportunities for improvements in a spirit of transparency.”
Nigeria uses radiation sources extensively in medical and industrial applications as well as in science and research, but the government has decided to introduce nuclear power by 2025, according to the IAEA.
In May 2016, the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission signed an agreement with the Russian government for cooperation in the construction of a centre for nuclear science and technology in the country.
“Nuclear acquisition has come to stay,” Erepano Osaisai, chief executive of NAEC, said at the event.
“It is well known that it contributes quite a chunk of global electricity. Although Nigeria does have other sources of energy, but this is about a balanced and diversified energy basket. Nuclear happens to be the one we considered.
“The preference is because it is environmentally friendly and leads to a better conservation of other resources.”
Over the past few years, the Nigerian government has heightened its resolve to explore nuclear energy as an additional source of electricity.
The 2017 budget proposal had N633 million allocated to nuclear power plant planning, site characterization, and selection projects while the proposal for 2018 had N400 million budgeted for the “ongoing” planning and development of nuclear power plant infrastructure. The budget for the same projects in 2015 was N26 million.
Furthermore, in the 2018 budget proposal, there is a further N150 million proposed for the completion and equipping of low/intermediate level radioactive waste management facility at the Nuclear Technology Centre at Sheda.
‘A SECRET AGREEMENT’
Rosatom is the Ministry for Atomic Energy of the Russian Federation which in 2007 was transformed to a non-profit Russian state corporation. The company engages in uranium extraction and production, nuclear power generation, nuclear fuel, and nuclear weapons. It also engages in nuclear power plant design, engineering, and construction.
The company’s nuclear business though widely claimed as successful is heavily subsidised by the Russian taxpayers by as much as €2 billion, according to the Greenpeace report.
But the company’s continued federal support could take a hit due to Russia’s worsening budget deficit – from €4.4 billion in 2014 to €31.5 billion in 2016, and a projected €43.2 billion in 2017.
Last March, Alexey Likhachev, Rosatom’s new director, announced that state support for the company would end in 2020.
In Nigeria, civil society activists accuse the government of ramping up its efforts to introduce nuclear energy and getting in bed with Rosatom without carrying her citizens along.
For instance, their efforts to know the details of the agreement signed with Rosatom had been futile, they said.