Uganda recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation (ROSATOM) to peacefully use nuclear energy. The agreement was signed by state minister Simon D’Ujanga on behalf of Uganda and Nikolai Spasskiy the deputy director general of ROSATOM. ROSATOM already runs Uranium extraction and production, nuclear power generation, nuclear fuel, nuclear weapons and nuclear safety activities in Russia and other parts of the world. The company also claims to be Russia’s largest electricity generating company producing 196.37 kilowatt-hour of electricity in 2016, or 18.3 percent of the country’s total generation of electricity. This agreement came after Uganda’s ministry of energy team led by Undersecretary Prisca Boonabantu travelled to China at the invitation of Zhonguan Engineering Corporation (CZEC), a subsidiary of China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), as part of the ongoing discussions with Beijing to help Kampala develop peaceful nuclear at about $3 billion.
Uranium is a naturally occurring radioactive element that is very hard and heavy and is classified as a metal. It is all over the planet, and makes up about 2 to 4 parts per million of most rocks. This makes it about as common as tin in the Earth's crust, and about 40 times more common than silver. Uganda has about 52,000 square kilometers of uranium prospects. This includes 18,000 sq.km in the Buganda-Toro region; 12,000 sq.km in the Karagwe-Ankole region; 5,000 sq.km between Lake Albert and Lake Kyoga; 5,000 sq.km around Lake Edward; sq.km on the Buhweju plateau and 12,000 sq.km in Lake Albert.
Uranium minerals in Uganda include euxenite, microlite, betafite, kasolite, torbenite and uranosphaerite. These minerals occur in different geological environments namely:
i. Pegmatite sand granites in eastern and western regions, Buganda and Karamoja.
ii. Sandstone in the Rift Valley and Buhweju plateau.
iii. Unconformities in the metasediments of Buganda-Toro System, Karagwe-Ankolean System, Kyoga Series and Singo-Mityana Series
iv. Springs along Rift Valley margins and
v. Volcanic tuffs in Fort Portal area
Lately, debates have raged over nuclear energy, which begs the question: Is nuclear energy the perfect formula that will finally satisfy the needs of the Uganda’s electricity or will it end up to be the malevolent power that devastates the country?
Nuclear energy is a clean, safe, reliable and competitive energy source. It is the only source of energy that can replace a significant part of the fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) which greatly pollute the environment and contribute to the greenhouse effect.
As a nation that wants to be serious about climate change and the end of oil, emphasis should be put on use of more efficient use of energy. Renewable energies – wind and solar – wherever possible, and adopt a more sustainable life style. But this will not be nearly enough to slow the accumulation of atmospheric CO2, and satisfy the needs of our industrial growth and the aspirations of the country. Nuclear power should be deployed rapidly to replace wood, coal, oil and gas for a prospective industrial Uganda.
Nuclear power plants, produce electricity by boiling water into steam. This steam then turns turbines to produce electricity. Nuclear plants do not burn anything, instead, they use uranium fuel, consisting of solid ceramic pellets, to produce electricity through a process called fission. The uranium fuel consists of small, hard ceramic pellets that are packaged into long, vertical tubes. Bundles of this fuel are inserted into the reactor. Nuclear power plants obtain the heat needed to produce steam through a physical process. This process, called fission, entails the splitting of atoms of uranium in a nuclear reactor.
A single uranium fuel pellet the size of a pencil eraser contains the same amount of energy as 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 1780 pounds of coal or 149 gallons of oil. There are no emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide during the production of electricity at nuclear energy facilities. Nuclear energy is the only clean-air source of energy that produces electricity 24 hours a day, every day. Nuclear energy is often called a sustainable energy source, because there is enough uranium in the world to fuel reactors for 100 years or more.
Environmentalists are enthralled by the how simple the idea of solar cells and the clean and fresh elegance of wind turbines is, and they refuse to accept the fact that they are quantitatively incapable of supplying the energy required by an industrial civilization. I do not mean to say that these renewable energies should be abandoned and left redundant; they are useful and have important roles to play – in remote locations and under special circumstances. But they can make only a small contribution to the energy needs of a growing industrial civilization that’s happening in Uganda. Let me give an example, to replace just one nuclear reactor, with the most modern wind turbines, they would have to be lined up all the way from Kampala to Kidepo Valley National Park in semi-arid valleys between Uganda’s borders with Sudan and Kenya (about 700 kilometers/400miles). And, even so, they generate electricity only when the wind blows (their average yield is about 25% of their rated capacity).
For instance, in the U.S, every dollar spent by the typical nuclear power plant results in the creation of $1.04 in the local community, $1.18 in the state economy, and $1.87 in the U.S. economy, according to an analysis of 23 nuclear plants representing 41 reactors. Companies operating a typical nuclear plant pay about $16 million in state and local taxes annually. Each company typically pays federal taxes of $67 million annually. In addition, nuclear energy facilities typically employ up to 3,500 people during construction and 400 to 700 people during operation, and salaries 36 percent higher than average in the local area. It produces approximately $470 million annually in sales of goods and services in the local community.
Generation of nuclear energy requires small amounts of fuel: less fuel means more energy. And so a signiﬁcant save on raw materials but also in transport, handling and extraction of nuclear fuel. The cost of nuclear fuel (overall uranium) is 20% of the cost of energy generated.
Nuclear Power is a highly reliable form of energy almost as good as other fossil fuel energy forms like coal, gas etc. Nuclear Power Plants except in drastic situations continue to run reliably for the whole day without any changes. In the USA, improvements over the years have been the equivalent of adding one reactor a year to the existing fleet. Most reactors are designed for a life of 40 years; many reach that age in good condition and extensions of 20 years have usually been granted.
Uranium is found everywhere in the Earth as stated earlier, It is estimated that increasing the market price by a factor ten would result in 100 times more uranium coming to market. Eventually, uranium under the sea will be able to be recovered as 4 billion tons are estimated to be dissolved.
Imagine Mandela National Stadium and its parking lot, right? That’s the total amount of space needed for a reactor; it is very compact, Government would not have to spend billions on compensation for displaced locals. Solar cells, wind turbine farms and growing biomass, all require large areas of land, not talking about hydropower dams. Another advantage is the reactors can be installed underground offering added insulation against unauthorized access and external hazards.
Nuclear Power has a High Load Factor – Nuclear Power Plants have very high load factors in excess of 80%.They can generate power almost 24/7 and only require shutdown for periodic maintenance. Load factor is defined by Wikipedia as a measure of variability of consumption or generation; a low load factor indicates that load is highly variable, whereas consumers or generators with steady consumption or supply will have a high load factor.
Drawbacks to nuclear revolution in LDCs
Nuclear energy hasn’t been embraced especially in developing countries for many reasons, but chief among them is the fear of radiation in general, fear of radioactive waste in particular, fear of another major accident such as Three Mile Island or Chernobyl, and fear of rapid increase in numbers of nuclear weapons.
One of the main disadvantages is the difﬁculty in the management of nuclear waste. It takes many years to eliminate its radioactivity and risks. Nuclear waste is categorized into 3 levels. The low level contains contaminated equipment, materials and protective clothing. These are later put in drums and surrounded by concrete, and put into clay lined landﬁll sites for disposal. Intermediate level waste includes components from nuclear reactors, radioactive sources used in medicine or research and these are mixed with concrete and then put in a stainless steel drum in a purpose-built store. High level waste comprises of used nuclear fuel and chemicals from reprocessing fuels. They are stored underwater in large pools for 20 years, then placed in storage casks in purpose-built underground store where air can circulate to remove the heat produced. High level waste decays into intermediate level waste over many thousands of years.
The constructed nuclear reactors have an expiration date. Then, they've to be dismantled, so that a regular number of operating reactors is maintained. They've to build about 80 new nuclear reactors during the next ten years. Nuclear plants have a limited life. The investment for the construction of a nuclear plant is very high and must be recovered as soon as possible, so it raises the cost of electricity generated. In other words, the energy generated is cheap compared to the cost of fuel, but the recovery of its construction is much more expensive. Something an LDC like Uganda would find very uncertain in long term maintenance.
Another major disadvantage is that Nuclear power plants are objectives of terrorist organizations. If terrorist groups could sufficiently damage safety systems to cause a core meltdown at a nuclear power plant, and/or sufficiently damage spent fuel pools, such an attack could lead to widespread radioactive contamination. With Uganda already nursing wounds from the July 11th, 2010 bombings, additional terrorist threat would not be openly welcomed.
Nuclear power plants generate external dependence.
Not many countries have uranium mines and not all the countries have nuclear technology, so they have to hire both factors from overseas. Current nuclear reactors work by ﬁssion nuclear reactions. These chain reactions are generated in case control systems fail, generating continuous reactions causing a radioactive explosion that would be virtually impossible to contain. Expatriate services are very costly consequently making costs of production skyrocket yet Uganda still relies on a deficit budget.
Probably the most alarming disadvantage is the use of the nuclear power in the military industry. The ﬁrst use of nuclear power was the creation of two nuclear bombs dropped on Japan during World War II. This was the ﬁrst and the last time that nuclear power was used in a military attack. Later, several countries signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but the risk that nuclear weapons could be used in the future will always exist.
The debate on nuclear energy is still raging and has a lot of contradictions. First of all it doesn’t yet qualify as renewable energy considering the present state of production and waste disposal. Uranium is also still limited worldwide save for a few countries like Uganda with massive reserves. The reactors have a possibility of becoming unstable due to several factors and thus causing radiation. In addition, processing nuclear waste would be a major challenge for a country like Uganda that has issues managing meagre projects.