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13.04.2007 General News

Nuclear energy debate hots up

By myjoyonline

Proponents of nuclear power are urging the government to embrace atomic power as a long-term solution to Ghana's recurring energy crisis.

It's estimated that a 400 Megawatts nuclear reactor cost between 700 million and 1.5 billion dollars, but proponents say they would rather see money spent on a nuclear reactor than on other mega-projects like the Bui Dam.

Critics warn that the environmental and financial costs of nuclear are simply too high.

The retired nuclear scientist and former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Professor Francis Allotey knows all about nuclear power.

Since the debate over what energy form would best serve Ghana started, he has been talking to people in high places trying to convince the government to invest in nuclear power.

“The president himself, I have not talked to him. But I have got messages hearing that he is interested in nuclear. I have talked to some of the ministers and they have been talking to me. And some of the commissioners have also been talking about it. The Atomic Energy Comission has written a document to the President.”

Professor Allotey says Ghana has the expertise to build and maintain a nuclear reactor and argues that nuclear pollutes less that burning oil and gas, and is more reliable than hydro.
“We are going to do the Bui, but are we sure the weather will be friendly at the time the Bui has been done? Now we have a problem with Akosombo. It's good we do the Bui, but we're not certain that when we are ready for Bui, the rain will fall.”

But rain or shine, critics say the idea of nuclear power in Ghana is just unrealistic.
According to Balatey Gormey, Projects Coordinator with Green Earth Ghana, “It's good to satisfy our scientific curiosity and make us feel good, but in actual fact, it's not an option…”

He says the push for nuclear is coming from developed countries who own the technology and banks willing to loan countries like Ghana the money to pay for it, but he is convinced it is a recipe for financial disaster.

“Mexico has one plant, which is about 1,300 megawatts of electricity and it has contributed to 10% of its national debt, because it has had to go for loans from the US to maintain this facility in order to prevent any accident. Most of the countries, especially in the third world, like India, for example, when they started their second nuclear plant, three years into the construction period, the cost almost doubled. Because while the projects analysts were calculating we'll spend this amount on it, other costs keep emerging. A country like Thailand by 1994-95 decided not to go with the nuclear option because of the cost.”

Balatey Gormey says the costs of maintenance, storing nuclear waste, and ultimately decommissioning the reactor are beyond Ghana's means.

“Look at Ghana, ordinary municipal waste, 50 years of independence, we cannot manage municipal waste efficiently. What are we going to do when we have nuclear waste? The question is: do we have the money for regular maintenance of a nuclear facility in order to prevent a disaster? Because should we have even one percent of what they had in Chernobyl, I don't think most of us will survive in this country. It will be a major disaster no one can control.”

Gormey says the idea of building a reactor has been on the table since Nkrumah's time. And that the latest talk about going nuclear is just that… talk and nothing else.

He has doubts he'll see a nuclear reactor on Ghanaian soil anytime soon.

And we may find out as early as next week if this really is all just talk really. The Director General of the Atomic Energy Commission, Professor Akaho, has told Joy News that the Commission will be holding a news conference next Tuesday, to tell Ghanaians whether the Commission thinks nuclear energy is feasible for the country.