ZAMBIA Atomic Agency head Dr Roland Msiska has demystified negative perceptions by the public surrounding the use of nuclear energy.
Meanwhile, Dr Msiska says it is impossible to put up a nuclear power plant in Chongwe.
He was speaking at a public discussion organised by the Press Freedom Committee of The Mast at Best Western Plus Lusaka Grand Hotel in Lusaka on Wednesday evening.
The topic of the discussion was ‘Understanding Zambia’s nuclear programme.’
In April this year, Dr Msiska led a team of officials fr om the Zambia Atomic Energy Agency (ZAMATOMA) and selected journalists to Sochi, Russia for the 11th ATOMEXPO international forum, the largest exhibition and business platform for discussing the current state of the nuclear industry and held annually since 2009.
The two-day event was organised by the Russian State Nuclear Corporation (ROSATOM).
Dr Msiska on Wednesday told an avid audience that Zambia’s nuclear energy programme: “is from 2015 to 2216 because that’s just the framework within which you have to think about nuclear power.
“One nice thing about nuclear programme, because of the length in which you have to plan, about 200 years, you’ll have to think inter-generationally because that’s four generations. That’s 20 presidents, if you are talking about each president [serving for] 10 years. You have to plan inter-generationally and implement inter-generationally,” Dr Msiska explained, in a PowerPoint presentation.
He noted that nuclear power was such an important energy mix due to greenhouse effects.
“All those other methods of producing energy damage the environment. So if you are thinking about your grandchildren, your great grandchildren, this (nuclear energy) is the technology to use,” he said.
“Because you are also thinking about sustainable development, what you will notice [is that] this is a human development index. There is a very direct correlation; the higher your consumption of electricity, the higher you are [insofar as development]. Electricity is important on the human development side.”
Dr Msiska explained that the use of nuclear technology would also improve Zambia’s market access.
“Recently, the South Africans stopped us from exporting honey and they said ‘you have not gamma radiated….’ Especially now that we are going for a free-trade area, what will come very important is non-tariff barriers,” Dr Msiska said.
He further highlighted the brief background of using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in Zambia.
Dr Msiska revealed that Zambia became a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1969 but that at the time, activities were limited to research, education and agricultural and medical applications.
“In 1980, the IAEA gave us our first nuclear analytical laboratory [and] it was established. In 2006, they (IAEA) helped us with the creation of the Cancer Diseases Hospital and Nuclear Medicine Centre,” Dr Msiska explained.
“So what was the trigger for accelerating the nuclear energy programme in Zambia? If you remember, in 2015/2016, we experienced a low power production due to prolonged droughts. Because of that, we had a reduction of approximately 40 per cent of our economic growth. It dropped from seven per cent to about three to four per cent. In order to address that challenge, the President made an announcement two times that during his administration, we’ll pursue nuclear energy as part of a diversified sustainable energy mix to power Zambia’s economy. But please, understand that we are not saying we cannot pursue the other energy.”
Dr Msiska pointed out that because Zambia lacks capacity in terms of nuclear scientists and engineers, “we needed to look at our skills development.”
“We took a deliberate decision and said ‘let’s create a centre for nuclear science’ which will be used to train individuals who would run this particular entity called the nuclear power plant. IAEA is very strict; they will check all the things you are doing. One of the things we needed to do is to transform our Radiation Protection Authority into Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Authority,” he said.
On why the Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology was key for the transformation of Zambia, Dr Msiska said: “this is a centre for nuclear research, the one we are trying to put in Chongwe.
“Please, we are not putting a nuclear power plant in Chongwe. It is impossible to put it there [because] one, there is no water there. This is just a research laboratory which is using neutrons produced from this research reactor, which by the way, is only 10 megawatts,” Dr Msiska clarified.
He also indicated that consumption of electricity in Lusaka was about 400 to 500 megawatts.
“The real issue here is that you have a gamma radiator; it will help in dealing with increased shelf life, disinfect crops and you can use it also to deal with germs in the hospital and stuff like that. Then you will have a Nuclear Medicine Centre, which will be a state-of-the-art technology in medical diagnosis, radiation therapy for the treatment of cancers,” Dr Msiska highlighted.
“Basically, this is what we are trying to do. We are in the early stages; from 2015 to wh ere we are. When we began in 2015, we were the lowest on the African continent.”
Meanwhile, in terms of financing of the nuclear energy project in Zambia, Dr Msiska told the audience: “there are quite a lot of options, especially for the nuclear power plant. Nuclear electricity is not that expensive!”