Nigeria approved and launched its Energy Transition Plan (ETP) earlier this year setting out the pathway to achieving its net zero target by 2060. The ETP aims to focus on emissions reduction across various sectors including the oil and gas and power sector sectors to drive economic growth and lift over a 100million people out of poverty. For the power sector, it is envisaged, that emissions will be reduced by substituting natural gas with solar energy. The ETP however, made no mention of utilising nuclear energy as a means of generating electricity to further reduce emissions despite its potential as the second-largest source of low-carbon electricity behind hydropower. Nuclear electricity is generated through fission, which is the process of splitting uranium atoms to produce energy. The heat released by fission is used to create steam that spins a turbine to generate electricity without the harmful by-products emitted by fossil fuels. In comparison to other clean energy sources, a typical 1,000-megawatt nuclear facility requires less than one square mile to operate, while solar plants require seventy-five times the space to produce the same volume of electricity. The omission of nuclear energy from the ETP is confounding particularly given the Federal Government of Nigeria’s earlier announcement this year of a bid process for the construction of a 4000MW nuclear power plant, as part of its plans to bridge the energy gap in the country.
The omission of nuclear generation of electricity from the ETF may have been premised on the challenges associated with deploying nuclear power such as:
Lack of clear regulatory framework
The regulatory space for the use of nuclear power in Nigeria is presently unclear to adequately address the risks facing potential investors. There presently exist multiple regulatory agencies with overlapping responsibilities such as The Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NNRA) formed in 1995 under the Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Act and is statutorily charged with the responsibility for nuclear safety and radiological protection regulation in Nigeria. The agency began operations in 2001 and has subsequently developed regulations pertaining to nuclear energy-including the Basic Ionizing Radiation Regulations, issued in 2003 as well as issued several other regulations for transporting radioactive sources, the safety and security of radioactive sources, and the safety of industrial radiography, nuclear medicine, and radiotherapy.
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It also implements international best practices as contained in the International Basic Safety Standard for Protection against Ionizing Radiation and the International Basic Safety Standards; the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) is charged with the technical and commercial oversight of the electricity supply industry in Nigeria; and the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) is charged with oversight and enforcement of environmental laws.
Clarity around the licences and permits for the construction of nuclear power plants will help provide investors with a degree of certainty on project life which is key for the bankability and financing of any nuclear power project.
There are also several treaty obligations some of which have been ratified such as the IAEA Convention on Nuclear Safety, the 1986 Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, the revised supplementary agreement Concerning the Provision of technical assistance by the IAEA, and the 1968 Convention on assistance in Case of a Nuclear Accident or radiological Emergency. There are also several treaties and conventions to which Nigeria must be a signatory for it to be eligible to develop nuclear power and these remain outstanding. The ensuing dichotomy of federal and state regulation of the electricity sector will further muddle the regulation and use of nuclear power.
To be able to utilize nuclear power in attaining its net zero promise by 2060, there is clearly a need for clarity around the legal and regulatory framework, particularly around licences and permits applicable to the construction of nuclear power plants. This will help provide investors with a degree of certainty on project life which will be key for the bankability and financing of any nuclear power project.
Nuclear power plant projects typically have long time horizons in terms of construction and testing. However there are some new technologies such as Sealed Micro-Reactors which are small reactors with capacities of 10 MW or less that have the potential to operate for up to 10 years without the need for refuelling; and Small Modular Reactors, or SMRs, which have a capacity of up to 300 MW and are often built off-site, lowering construction times and costs. The flexibility and limited capacity of SMRs allow for their deployment on or off grid. The construction timeline and ease of deployment of SMRs would certainly allow for a faster reduction of emissions in the Nigeria Electricity Supply Industry. One module could power a whole state once connected to the Transmission Company of Nigeria’s (TCN) grid. Hospitals and schools could also run off micro modules which should make the solution attractive to states seeking to develop their own independent electricity grids.
The present transmission infrastructure in Nigeria is not adequate to support nuclear electricity generation. Nuclear power plants operate continuously at base load (full capacity) which means the grid must be able to transmit a sufficient multiple (typically 10x) of the production capacity of the nuclear plant. Significant investment will therefore be needed for the upgrade of the existing grid for the evacuation of nuclear-generated electricity. In the alternative, and in the short to medium term (while the grid is upgraded and reconfigured towards renewables and or the proposed super grid is constructed) SMRs as discussed above may be a viable tool and their mobility might be a real asset in bridging the infrastructure gap. SMR
Maintenance and Safety
Lack of local maintenance expertise for any nuclear power plant built will be a major cause for concern safety wise and clear and purposeful training of the local workforce will be especially important in the deployment of nuclear power. So, any nuclear power-focused agenda must necessarily include robust training provisions.
The advantages of infusing nuclear electricity generation into the NESI as a means of decarbonising the power sector are clearly significant and Nigeria will be prudent to key into these advantages. To do this, however, there must be a clear strategy for an integrated energy system. The ETP issued earlier in the year provides decarbonization strategies for various energy sectors but falls short of providing an integrated energy system plan. For the net zero emission plan to succeed, there is a need for an integrated planning of Nigeria’s entire energy system that takes cognizance of various sources of clean energy including nuclear power which will help deliver efficient, reliable, and cost-effective energy to reduce poverty. To this end, there is a need for the harmonization of the various energy policy frameworks being developed and pursued by different Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
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