A Plenary session of the Chamber of Deputies on Monday, June 15, 2020, voted the law approving the ratification of the agreement between Rwanda and Russia, on cooperation in the construction of the Centre of Nuclear Science and Technology on the territory of Rwanda.
The agreement was signed in the Russian city Sochi, on October 24, 2019.
The Centre will develop integrated nuclear energy solutions which the Ministry of Infrastructure expects to be beneficial to the advancement of several sectors of the economy especially agriculture, healthy, education, sciences and industry.
The Government of Rwanda started the process of developing nuclear energy applications for peaceful purposes, and establishing this Centre in Rwanda is essential in order to access a wide range of nuclear applications in this regard, according to Minister of Infrastructure, Claver Gatete.
He told lawmakers that Rwanda chose six areas where such applications can be made including nuclear medicine, research reactor laboratory complex, and multipurpose radiation especially in agriculture, education, radiobiology, and material science.
Gatete said that the establishment of the centre is meant to provide Rwanda with required skills in the nuclear science and technology so that it becomes competitive at the international stage.
Giving examples of the current nuclear usages, the Minister said that [some of] the imported foods into Rwanda are preserved using nuclear technology, and the security devices used to check cars are equipped with that technology as well.
“If we do not have skills in such areas, we have a big problem. That is why we want to build the prerequisite skills, which requires laboratory and trained people,” he said.
MP John Ruku-Rwabyoma said that it is a good move that Rwanda is going to have the nuclear centre.
“I am happy that Rwanda is going to have nuclear science. That will reduce the cost in electricity, agriculture, and research areas. We have reached a point where risks in nuclear science are over. Living near a nuclear reactor is like residing near a gas station,” he said
Some express concerns
The aforementioned law was voted for by 76 MPs out of 78 who were present at the plenary. Two of them rejected it.
MP Frank Habineza said that nuclear energy would cause more harm than good, hence voting against the law.
“Living near a nuclear energy plant is like living near a nuclear bomb which can explode and cause more damages. Considering the highly population density in Rwanda, there is no place where the plant can be built and the safety of Rwandans and neighbours is ensured,” he said.
MP Jean Claude Ntezimana said that nuclear waste management would pose a serious challenge for Rwanda.
He asked whether the possible benefits and effects of the nuclear centre were weighed so as to decide whether it is important for Rwandans to have the centre than not having it.
Minister Gatete observed that there are already 50 Rwandans who are pursuing masters and first degrees in nuclear science and technology in Russia, adding that Rwanda plans to have more students in that filed.
“We are planning to send 20 more students [to Russia]. But, we also need others to go to study to America, Europe, Asia so that we have a team of a variety of skills,” he observed.
He said that Russia teaches Rwanda students and lets them work in its latest technology-based nuclear power plants, which he described as an added advantage.
“Its nuclear reactors have been safe because they use cutting-edge technology. All of them are regulated by International Atomic Energy Agency,” he said as he responds to MPs’ security and safety concerns about nuclear power.
Minister Gatete indicated that Rwanda has few people trained in this field who are working with Russians as Rwanda is about to start a study to set up the Centre.
“Nuclear energy waste manage will be one of the aspects that the study will take into consideration,” he said.
Promising results in healthcare
Meanwhile, sMinister Gatete said that a radiotherapy facility at Rwanda Military Hospital in Kanombe has helped Rwanda a lot. He pointed out that in 2017 Rwanda had only one person who was training in nuclear science, in Egypt.
Yet, he said that Rwanda was sending many patients to India for cancer treatment, pointing out that India charges low cost for such therapy.
“The cost of cancer treatment [in India] is $8,500 (over Rwf7 million), excluding airfare and accommodation expenses. But it is $1,750 (over Rwf1.5 million) at the Kanombe-based Rwanda Military Hospital, and health insurance helps cover such a cost for Rwandans,” he said, indicating that 350 Rwandans have been offered cancer therapy in nine months in Rwanda thanks to such a development.
“Once we have such a technology, and skills here, we help Rwandans get medical services which would otherwise be more costly,” he said.
Talking about fruits, he said that RwandAir together with Ethiopian Airlines have been transporting fruits from Rwanda twice a day, and farmers have to ensure that they harvest them a day before the export so that they stay safe.
“Yet, those [fruits] we import are handled through radiation so that their longevity increases. If we do not have such a technology, we cannot be competitive in terms of agricultural or horticulture exports,” he said.