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Opinions Fri, 24 Feb 2017

Nuclear energy, the ultimate ambition of Nana Akufo-Addo

By Stephen Atta Owusu

The four years rule of John Dramani Mahama and the NDC witnessed the worst period in Ghana's history as far as intermittent interruption of electricity is concerned. The proportion the electricity failure assumed was very frightening and alarming. Ghanaians preferred to call it "dumsor". This word gained so much currency, gradually finding its way into foreign dictionaries. It could easily be googled with ex-president Mahama's name shamefully attached to the definition. At the peak of dumsor, foreign direct investment in Ghana was brought to a halt.

Many companies like cold stores and ice block manufacturers had to close down since they needed constant electricity supply. Thousands of workers were laid off. Despite the effort of the NDC government to solve the power failure problems, there are still challenges to the electricity supply. This, perhaps, may be one of the major issues which accounted for Mahama and the NDC's heavy loss in the 2016 general elections.

His Excellency Nana-Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo is fully aware that for his rule to be successful and for all his plans and ambitions for Ghana to come to fruition, he will need a constant flow of electricity. He has not ruled out the option of nuclear energy and has already made contacts with China and other countries to consider the possibility of assisting in the construction of a nuclear plant in Ghana. Nuclear energy is a massive advancement and improvement in electricity supply. It by far outclasses hydro-energy in terms of cost and efficiency.

Nuclear energy is the energy in the nucleus of an atom. Atoms are the smallest particles that can break a material. Nuclear energy which can be used to produce energy or electricity and this can be obtained in two forms, namely, nuclear fusion and nuclear fission. In nuclear fusion, atoms are released or combined together to form larger atoms. On the other hand, in nuclear fission, atoms are split into smaller atoms, releasing energy. To explain further, when nuclear energy is released, it changes into other forms of energy. The type of energy released is often called radiation. Heat and light are examples of radiation.

In pursuant of Nana Addo's nuclear ambition, an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of experts has started an integrated nuclear infrastructure review mission in Ghana. The main purpose of the team's visit is to evaluate the status of major infrastructure issues with regard to both the Ghanaian and presidential desire to evaluate Ghana's readiness to embark on the way to develop nuclear power. There are very important issues the team of experts would be considering, namely, legal and regulatory frameworks, nuclear safety and security, radioactive waste management, human resource development, stakeholder involvement, the capacity of the electoral grid and several others.

Although there are no Nuclear Power Plants (NPP) in Ghana, the leadership of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) is determined to make it happen since they are convinced that the country has competences in nuclear technology. Nana Addo and his government realize the importance of developing a peaceful nuclear program. Nana Addo's determination to launch a National nuclear program lies within the womb of time. The assessment of Ghana's nuclear program is being done in accordance with IAEA standards. Nuclear power, when it happens will solve Ghana's electricity problem for good.

The Ministry of energy has confirmed that only 76% of the entire population in Ghana has access to electricity. According to Statistical, Social and Economic Research, Ghana lost between $320million and $924million a year due to the power crisis, while at the same time Ghana lost 6% of GDP.

To be able to serve the entire country, the experts of IAEA estimate that Ghana will need over 6000MW of nuclear power thereby achieving a maximum capacity of electricity supply. However, to finally achieve such a total, 1000MW to 2000MW of atomic power reactor must be constructed in phases. To begin the nuclear power project, a regulatory body which is internationally accepted must be put in place. Permission will then be sought from the regulatory body at every phase until the plant is brought to 100% nominal level of nuclear power. The experts envisage that once the nuclear project is completed, it will undergo a comprehensive dynamic test for two weeks which will confirm the designed parameters of the power unit main system and its dynamic stability of certain modes of disturbance of normal operation.

There is no gainsaying the fact that Asia, North America and Europe have prospered due to nuclear energy. Constant electricity promotes investment and national security, while ensuring safe lifestyles and progress for the citizens. Nana Addo in his one month in office has created a Ministry for Railways. His major ambition is to construct a railway line from Accra through Ashanti and Brong Ahafo regions, to the Northern and Upper East and West regions. Another one will also begin from Takoradi to Paga. A long distance by train is safe when it is powered by electricity. When Nana Addo's plan to go nuclear is achieved, even trams will be introduced for the first time.

To be able to achieve this crucial, gargantuan and ambitious goal, nuclear energy development is crucial because it will play a major role in the development of a clean energy mix. Nuclear and renewable technologies have very low carbon sustainable mix of energy source which will go a long way to solve the dumsor problems for good. We should, however, bear in mind that when nuclear power plant is completely constructed in the foreseeable future, there will be rapid investment from foreign businessmen and from Ghanaians both at home and abroad and this will ensure economic growth and urbanisation. The electricity demand in Ghana will be expected to increase considerably, even upon the background of improved end-user efficiency. It is estimated that by 2040, Sub-Saharan Africa alone will be consuming 1600 tetra watts of electricity.

We may have the nuclear power but how and where to dispose of nuclear waste will be a major concern. To avoid a "Chernobyl" in Ghana, research must begin now.

Nana Addo will be well remembered if he is able to bring this dream of introducing nuclear energy in Ghana. When this happens, dumsor will emphatically be a thing of the past.

Stephen Atta Owusu is the author of Dark Faces at Crossroads. Email: stephen.owusu@email.com
Columnist: Owusu, Stephen Atta