Frequent Asked Questions - Nuclear Power

Frequent Asked Questions - Nuclear Power

In order to realize the development agenda stipulated in Kenya Vision 2030, studies have shown that the country will require more than 17,000 MW of electricity by 2030. Currently the country is generating more than 2300MW from various energy sources including hydro, geothermal, thermal and wind. Under the 5000MW plus initiative, coal and gas will be tapped alongside geothermal and wind. This will raise the country’s generation capacity to almost 7000MW by 2017. Be that as it may, the country would still have a deficit even if all the domestic energy resources such as geothermal were fully exploited. Thus the country would need alternative sources to help realize Vision 2030. Based on these premises, nuclear energy has been identified as a stable, efficient and reliable source of electricity that will produce base load power to steer industrial development, stimulate economic growth, create jobs and above all, better the lives and lot of Kenyans.

 Studies have demonstrated that it is cheaper to generate electricity from nuclear energy than from crude oil. The crude oil discovered in Turkana will be more economical for export and foreign exchange earnings than for generating electricity locally. 

Following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in March 2011, Germany decided to accelerate its phasing out of nuclear power by 2022. Subsequently, reactors that started operation in 1980 or earlier were shut down. However, the decision was not based on any safety assessment. If Germany were to proceed with its nuclear phase-out policy and maintain carbon emission reduction, it would need to import about 20,000 MW of electricity as base load by 2020. Following this nuclear policy, France, Poland and Russia are anticipating increased electricity exports to Germany, mostly from nuclear energy.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident was an eye opener to nuclear industry players with regard to occurrence of nuclear accidents. Although it was a unique situation, the accident has led to further scrutiny of nuclear facilities thereby decreasing the chances of nuclear accidents occurring around the world. Current reactor designs have enhanced safety features. This, coupled with stringent regulations, has greatly diminished the probability of such accidents. 

The nuclear power programme will create jobs locally both directly and indirectly. Human resource planning shows that over 5,000 workers will be directly involved in design, siting, bidding and construction of the nuclear power plant, majority of whom will be drawn from the local labour pool. Other jobs will be created in affiliated institutions such as the regulatory body, research institutes and nuclear training centres. Indirectly, it is expected that increase in power generation capacity will trigger industrial growth therefore creating more job opportunities for local people.

A country can purchase low enriched uranium fuel from international suppliers. Currently, IAEA is in the process of establishing a uranium fuel bank. This is meant to increase assurance of fuel supply and give more options for countries interested in peaceful use of nuclear energy like Kenya.

Supply of spare parts is specified during the bidding process. Contractual negotiations with the successful bidder should include supply of reactor components and maintenance services by the vendor during the operating lifetime of the nuclear power plant.

According to the classification adopted by IAEA, small modular reactors have an electric power output of less than 300 MW; medium sized reactors have an electric power output of between 300 and 700 MW; and large reactors have an electric power output of between 700 and 1,700 MW.

Yes. Kenya will use internationally acceptable criteria for reactor technology assessment; Common User Considerations (CUC) and Utility Requirements Design (URD), which will define the country’s considerations for the reactor type. A nuclear reactor supplier will be required to meet the considerations before concluding contract negotiations. This will ensure that the country gets a suitable nuclear reactor for its power plant.

Nuclear power is environment-friendly. It is among the lowest carbon dioxide emitters when emissions throughout the entire life cycle are considered.

Nuclear power contributes to energy supply security. Currently known and reported resources and reserves of uranium are found in a number of countries across six continents. Moreover, compared with fossil fuels, the small volume of nuclear fuel required to run a reactor makes it easier to establish strategic inventories.

Nuclear power is economically competitive. Nuclear power plants are relatively expensive to build but relatively inexpensive to operate. Moreover, the low share of uranium costs in total generating costs means that significant volatility in uranium costs results in only minor volatility in generating costs. 

Currently, there are 438 nuclear power reactors in operation worldwide with a total installed capacity of 374,301MW, and 71 nuclear power reactors under construction. Many countries with existing nuclear power programs (Argentina, Armenia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Czech Rep., France, India, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, South Korea, South Africa, Ukraine, UK, USA) have plans to build new power reactors (beyond those now under construction). The industry is also experiencing a boon of newcomer countries that have expressed an intention to embark on nuclear power programmes.  Kenya is among those nations that also include Turkey, Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, Tunisia, Uganda and Tanzania. The United Arab Emirates, despite its oil resources, is currently building nuclear power plants.

Power plants, whether they are coal, gas, oil or nuclear, use steam to make electricity. They operate like a giant tea kettle, turning water into steam which spins giant turbines that power generators to make electricity. The primary difference between fossil and nuclear power plants is that nuclear plants use uranium as the fuel to produce steam instead of burning fossil fuels.  In a nuclear power plant reactor, water is heated by a process called nuclear fission.

  • Uranium atoms are split when they are struck by neutrons.  
  • When the atoms split, they release heat, along with two or three more neutrons.  
  • These neutrons then strike other uranium atoms, again causing the atoms to split, release heat and again, two or three more neutrons. This is called a chain reaction.

The steam then spins turbines that are connected to generators to produce electricity.

Nuclear power plant reactors use uranium which is referred to as nuclear fuel to generate electricity. A uranium pellet is a solid material like coal or wood and not in liquid form or a gas.

Nuclear technology application has been used by many countries around the world to produce safe, clean, reliable and affordable electricity. Further, it is known to provide base load (constant supply) of electricity.

A reactor is the core in a nuclear power plant that uses fission process (splitting of atoms) to produce electricity in a controlled chain reaction. The energy from the fission reaction is removed from the reactor by a coolant to produce steam to drive the turbines of electric generators. Thus, in a nuclear power plant, fission of nuclear fuel plays the same role as burning of coal, natural gas, or oil plays in fossil fuel power plants.

In a typical reactor, nuclear fuel stays for 12-24 months. After this period, one third of the fuel is usually waste and has to be replaced with new fuel.

Nuclear power plants emit virtually no greenhouse gases and produce no harmful emissions that deplete the ozone layer and contribute to greenhouse gases and acid rain. For this reason, countries are using or considering this source of power to cut on their carbon emissions.

Nuclear power plants emit extremely small amounts of radiation. These emissions are controlled so that it does not pose any threat to the public or the environment. Additionally, strict rules are put in place to ensure that radiation is carefully controlled at the storage site, so people, animals and the environment are not harmed.

Research has shown that it is safe to carry out agricultural activities near a nuclear power plant site without contamination to plant, animal and human life since the power plants do not emit liquid or air-borne waste. In addition, there is no negative impact from onsite spent fuel storage on the surrounding.

Nuclear plants have high security, extensive perimeters and are built to withstand the impact of a plane crash or large explosion. This means that it is difficult for terrorists to access a nuclear plant and escape undetected with fuel or radioactive material. They would need costly, difficult to obtain equipment and highly sophisticated technical knowledge to turn the stolen material into a weapon. Since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, security at nuclear plants has become a major focus for governments and concerned international organizations such as the IAEA. Nuclear installations around the world have strengthened security forces, added protective barriers, limited
access to sensitive information and taken other measures commensurate with the current security risks.

It has taken decades and billions of dollars for nations like India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran to build a single bomb. Again, the possibility of a non-weapon state marshaling the technical and financial resources to do the same is highly unlikely.

Also referred to as spent fuel, nuclear waste is the material gotten after nuclear fuel has been used in a reactor. It looks exactly like the fuel that was initially loaded into the reactor (assemblies of metal rods enclosing ceramic uranium pellets). After chemical reactions have occurred in the reactor during electricity generation for about three fuel cycles, or three years, the contents become waste which is dangerously radioactive, and remains so for thousands of years.
When it is first removed from the reactor, it is usually so toxic that if you stood within a few meters while it was not shielded, you would receive a lethal radioactive dose within a few seconds and die of radiation toxicity within few days. In practice, spent fuel is never unshielded. It is kept under water which is an excellent shield for a few years until the radiation reduces to levels that can be shielded by concrete in large storage casks. The final disposal of this spent fuel is highly debated and argued against the use of nuclear reactors. Options include deep geologic storage and recycling. The sun would consume it well if we could get into space, but since rockets are so unreliable, we can’t afford to risk atmospheric dispersal on lift-off.