By Jeff Kapembwa
Lusaka - Zambia must accelerate the adoption and operationalisation of the nuclear science to assist the country counter the effects of the climatic changes that have reduced its hydro energy potential to meet national developmental agenda, an atomic expert has advised.
Rowland Msiska, the head of the Zambia Atomic Energy Agency (ZAMATOM) notes that while Zambia might be endowed with various natural and mineral resources, the devastating effects of drought spurred by climate change, has dwarfed economic growth prospects hence the need to adopt nuclear science to avert the effects.
Zambia, whose economy has been projected to slump to 2.3% this year amid escalating debt and climatic change effects before probably rising to slightly over 3% next year faces greater challenge in the absence of a proper foundation for a nuclear power plant.
The recently set up of the Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology, east of Lusaka, is cardinal for the transformation of Zambia through energy generation, Msiska said in Lusaka during a presentation dubbed: “Is nuclear power the answer to reducing load shedding – the case for Zambia”.
The centre will be a milestone for Zambia’s quest to diversifying the energy sector from reliance on hydro power, whose capacity has been overtaken by the climatic change effects, hence the need to look beyond for sustained economic growth.
Recent case studies of climate change effects abound and Zambia needs to draw lessons from this and diversify without delay as it seeks to prop its growth agenda through the 7th National Development Plan-2017-2021 and the Vision 2030 and Vision 2063 under the African Union.
“In 2015/16 Zambia experienced low power production due to prolonged drought. This caused a reduction of approximately 40% of the economic growth rate,” Msiska recalled.
President Edgar Lungu had on 18 September 2015 and 16 September 2016 pronounced Zambia’s desire to pursue nuclear energy as part of the diversified sustainable energy mix to power Zambia’s economy.
The slow approach to operationalisation of the nuclear diversification after liaising with Russia for a nuclear plant as a fall back to sustained energy is rearing its ugly head in Africa’s second largest copper producer which has faced energy deficit, resulting in power load management.
“The 2018/19 looks to be a repeat of 2015/16,” Msiska notes. “The decision to embrace nuclear energy will help the country in achieving the goals of the Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP) such as economic diversification and job creation; industry and economic growth and enhancing human development.”
Zambia has in recent years been importing power from regional neighbours with recent pronouncements by the Energy Ministry that it will import 700 MW from South Africa and Mozambique to cushion the deficit which has forced the Southern African state to introduce power outages for 6-10 hours.
In 2015/16 Zambia spent “unbudgeted” for US$39,286,245.70 on emergency power imports.
Zambia and South Africa, like many Southern African countries hit hard with the perennial power deficits, are exploring nuclear energy as an alternative source of power. South Africa and Zambia are leading the pack in the region and have invested in the exploration and construction of nuclear power plants so as to offset perennial power deficit in their respective national grids.
Others like Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, DRC, Angola, Malawi and Swaziland are still at infancy stages of nuclear exploration to boost their capacity in generating enough power to propel industry and domestic consumption.
The Zambia Interim Secretariat on Nuclear Science and Technology (ISNST), in collaboration with Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation (ROSATOM), have been collaborating and have set up an information centre.
The idea is to provide the public with information on nuclear technology that is set to assist the country in food radiation technologies, nuclear medicine for cancer treatment, material science, radioisotope production and mineral identification techniques, said national coordinator of the Zambia INCST, Reuben Katebe.
The initiative, if successful, will bolster the agricultural sector to grow sustainably and ensure the country’s food security.
“The use of radiation for food preservation will improve food safety and create conditions for the increase of Zambian agricultural exports. We hope that our information helped many farmers to understand all the benefits that the centre can bring to them,” Katebe added. The healthcare sector will also benefit from the centre.
“The radioisotopes produced here will be used to diagnose and treat primarily cancer and cardiac diseases. This centre will increase availability of high-tech nuclear medicine for Zambia’s population,” he said.
Zambia is among the many countries in the SADC region that have signed agreements with Russia to develop nuclear power plant, estimated at US$30 billion. South Africa is exploring the use of nuclear as an alternative energy source to end its power deficit.