Eng. Collins Juma is a Mechanical engineer and a registered Consulting engineer. He holds a Master’s degree from University of Nairobi, Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) from National Indian Institute of Technology, Nagpur. He is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Nairobi. Eng Juma worked for Independent power plant, Ibera Africa before joining Kenya Power and KenGen respectively. Before his current assignment as the CEO Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board, he served in the board as the technical director.
Why does Kenya need Nuclear energy?
By the year 2030, Kenya’s electricity demand will stand at approximately 17,000MW, if the development agenda -as stipulated in the Kenyan Vision 2030- is to be realised. In addition to increasing wind, solar, and geothermal energy production, nuclear energy has been identified as a stable efficient and reliable source of electricity.
What is the overall potential of the nuclear power in Kenya?
Based on our grid size and our energy requirement at the moment, it may not be possible to estimate our nuclear energy potential. However, it is clear that with the industrial projections in vision 2030, the conversation cannot be ignored all together.
A nuclear programme takes a long time. It is futuristic, with the preparatory stage taking around 15 years. We have done five years and we need to work very hard to finish the preparatory stage within the remaining 10 years. Our target is to have the plant in place by 2027. So far we have completed the prefeasibility study on the 19 critical infrastructure issues identified by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
We have been training experts considering that we need at least 1,000 professionals yet we have only 3,000 engineers across all the sectors. We have also been engaging stakeholders and passing on the message that the benefits of a nuclear plant outweigh the disadvantages.
What are some of the shortcomings you face as a board in regards to this project?
The key issue has been insufficient funding leading to delays. For example, the detailed site analysis alone costs between $14.4 million and $19.2 million. Lack of enough funding has slowed us down significantly but we have a roadmap of what we intend to do with the support we get from the government.
Secondly, nuclear is a very political and motive topic and I would say this is largely due lack of information or misinformation on nuclear energy. Majority of Kenyans are not aware that nuclear energy is already in use at Cancer treatment centers, desalination of water, application in agriculture and livestock
In light of the decreasing power demands in the recent years, does Kenya really need an additional 1,000MW?
For industrial purposes, the demand is set to increase, and the lesser supply we have the more the delays we have in our industrialization agenda. For example, Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is running on diesel because we don’t have sufficient electricity capacity. Similarly, investors also cannot come to Kenya because the cost of electricity is high. The justification for the 1,000MW nuclear plant is based on an expected GDP growth rate of 8% annually. By 2030 we would require 17,000MW. If we want to attain Vision 2030 we have to make these investments.
Why does the site analysis cost so much and have you identified the site for the nuclear plant?
It takes two to three years to do site analysis and it involves a lot of work. The amount we hope to spend compared with what Turkey and Nigeria spent could be higher, considering a plant itself can cost $5 billion. Nuclear power plants need a huge water body to cool them.
On matters of site for the nuclear plant, studies are still ongoing but in the meantime we have identified areas along the Indian Ocean, River Tana and Lake Victoria as possible locations for the plant.
How do you plan to raise the $5 billion?
Various models can be used to fund the plant. These include the public-private partnerships in which the government partners with private investors. We could also consider the BOOT (build, own, operate, transfer) model which is known to be successful in Turkey. The investors negotiate a tariff that is reasonable enough to make them recoup their investment then they come build the plant, own it and operate it for some years. Once they have recouped their investments they transfer the plant to the government. The government can also decide to take up loans from developed governments to build the plant.
Should Kenyans expect cheap power when the nuclear plant comes on stream?
In comparison to other power production such as geothermal, hydro, coal and liquefied natural gas Nuclear energy is cheaper. If we stop generating from thermal power plants, electricity will be cheap because the biggest component in electricity bills is the fuel cost adjustment and the forex. With a nuclear plant of 4,000 MW we did simulations and discovered that it can reduce costs to between six and eight US cents. South Korea has a tariff of two-three US cents.
What infrastructure is already in place?
Well I did not say this from the beginning but nuclear power program is guided by a UN Agency called International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The 3S’s safety, security and safeguards nuclear materials in a major requirement.
There are around nineteen infrastructural issues. There could be up to 22 considerations depending on a country’s specific circumstances. You can also pick some few and use them as a country. Then you find that you will develop a nuclear power plant in a very secure and safety-conscious environment.
What are some of your priorities as a board?
I would say that for us, we need the grid to be expanded, the installed capacity, because if we have a small grid like the way we have it now or if it is expanded in some marginal value then we would find it difficult to introduce a nuclear power plant. If you want 1,000MW then you have to grow your install capacity to 10,000MW. So if we have a case by the year 2030 in which we only have 5000MW, then we have to rethink our strategy and decide whether we want to pursue a 1000MW nuclear power plant or opt for what they call Small Modular Reactors(SMR) of maybe 300 megawatts.
The second one is the public, there has to be a public acceptance like they want it. You are familiar of the word ‘not in my backyard’ and we have to really explain to the public why we want to introduce nuclear power in this country. People will tell you why not try wind, why not try solar but the fact is Nuclear is supposed to complement them because if we are looking at base load generation and we want to have some industries then wind and solar inasmuch as we might have them in abundance then they might not help us because their availability is around 40% or 39%. So you will not have solar throughout the night if you want to run a processing plant.
That is where we need some base load generation and then we can complement with wind and solar to light our homes. The other challenge is funding. It is a capital intensive investment and the government has to think of a model of how they want to finance it whether they want to call or invite vendors to put up the plant, recoup their investments transfer or Private Public partnership models all these needs to be looked at.
What are other opportunities that come with a nuclear power plant?
A typical nuclear power plant of 1,000 megawatts would require about 900 personnel; majority are engineers and scientists, so the engineers we have in Kenya is only a drop in the ocean. We have been trying to partner with other institutions to train engineers like the University of Nairobi, we have a program where we train 15 every year at the Institute of Nuclear Science, then we train engineers in Korea 5 every year, this is still very minimal.
What would be your message to the public especially people who are skeptical about nuclear energy?
It is not a message per se but it is an engagement process because I cannot send a message to you about nuclear and I have not explained how it works or why we need it. What I would say is that KNEB will continue to engage the stakeholders up to the very bottom in the counties to explain this concept of nuclear and why the country needs it.
What are some of the partnership that you have been able to tie so far?
We have signed a number of MOUs. We have signed MOUs with the Russian Federation, ROK –Republic of South Korea, China, and Ghana. However, it must be noted that these MOU’s which were signed to cater common issues of concern such as personal training, and building capacities but not specific to the technology itself.
Countries like Italy and Germany have suggested that Kenya should abandon the project…
If we want to industrialize we need nuclear. Kenya has ambitions to industrialize and that is why various power generation options have been explored. When nuclear came on the table projections were also done for geothermal. At that time the geothermal potential was 15,000MW; it has now come down to 10,000MW. Other sources like wind, solar, gas and coal were also considered. Nuclear was also proposed as a clean energy.
Why is Kenya not partnering with EAC neighbours on the project?
We thought of partnering with our neighbours but nuclear is so sensitive that you don’t want to have a collective responsibility. Even West Africa thought that Nigeria, Ghana and Niger could come together and put up a plant. But there are certain things that you consider to be of national interest that you don’t want to involve other countries. Top of it is security and haggling on location. A partnership would also introduce very many treaties to sign with the International Atomic Energy Agency and may lead to further delays