Niger plans to go Nuclear

Niger is experiencing serious energy problems. The country is 60% dependent on its Nigerian neighbour in terms of electrical energy. And to ensure lasting sovereignty for the country, the government has taken a big challenge: to take advantage of the enormous reserves of uranium in its subsoil to develop an electro-nuclear program by 2030. To do this, Niger’s High Authority for Nuclear Energy (Hanea) was launched in 2013 to set the milestones for the program. What exactly does the Hanea do? How could the nuclear program change the daily life of ordinary citizens? What risks? In this interview, Daouda Djibo, Secretary General of Hanea and Director of the electro-nuclear department in charge of the implementation of the electro-nuclear program, delivered his responses to the website Niamey and the days (Niamey et les 2 jours). We reproduce the key points of the interview:

Niamey and the 2days (N2J): The Hanea was launched in 2012. For what purpose?

Daouda Djibo: the Nigerian High Authority for Nuclear Energy was created on 04 December 2013 with the aim of promoting nuclear science and technology in Niger, including electro-nuclear. In the Constitution, it is a duty to use nuclear technology to ensure the needs of citizens. And that’s why a department of nuclear science and technology was created in 2011. In 2012, we started drafting the texts and Hanea was launched in 2013 to fulfil the mission.

N2J: Your goal is to deploy nuclear energy by 2035. According to a study by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it would be necessary until 2030 for the use of nuclear techniques to be economically viable. Yet Hanea is launched in 2013. What are you working on and what will you do by 2035 to make it work?

DD: First of all, the target horizon is 2030 and not 2035. An electro-nuclear program is a standard program of international scope. The AIEA has developed standards for the implementation of an electro-nuclear program divided into three phases: the first phase consists of evaluating the nuclear infrastructure at our disposal (qualified human resources, electricity grid, Evaluation of sites capable of housing a nuclear center, etc.). There are 19 areas that need to be studied and unveiled. Supplementary to these 19 areas, Niger added another according to its specificity. This is the availability of water resources. More than one wonders if the Niger who wants to develop an electro-nuclear program has water. To meet this challenge, the water resources domain is added. The second phase consists of assessing what we have done and comparing it with the standards set by the AIEA in order to fill the gap. The third phase consists of building the power stations. The end of this phase will be sanctioned by a mission of evaluation of the integrated nuclear infrastructure lead by the IAEA. We plan to do this in December 2017. We have already done a self-assessment report ourselves; We identified the gap against standards and we made a strategy to develop and remove the gap.

N2J: Hanea’s media outlets are much more dedicated to ratification of texts, compliance with standards, etc. What is the importance of all this?

DD: Like any project, we have several areas to evaluate, including the legal and institutional framework. And as I said, a nuclear program is an international program. For this, several international conventions exist. There are about ten international conventions to ratify, and there is also a general law that regulates nuclear activity and transport of radioactive infrastructure. We have already signed and ratified nine texts and we have also created the regulatory body, the Nuclear Safety Authority (Arsn). There are still some laws to be passed in order to be in international standards.

N2J: Does this mean that by 2030, Niger will have a nuclear power plant?

DD: By 2030, we intend to begin the construction and more precisely December 18, 2026. Already on December 18, 2021, the site will be identified and the excavation will start.

N2J: Mr Djibo, Niger has the highest level of sunshine in the world. Can solar be the solution against the shortage of electricity? Why electro-nuclear?

DD: That’s a really important question you’re asking. Niger has several resources to produce electricity. We have solar, coal, wind, nuclear, hydro, etc. Solar energy can satisfy energy needs through its photovoltaic, thermal and bio-fuel applications. However, the problem we have with solar energy is the low energy density. That is, it takes large spaces to produce a small amount of energy.

A second problem, solar energy is not totally controlled today. We need backup. On the 24 hours, we have the sun, 8 hours a day. The 2X8 hours that remain, there is no sun. It is therefore necessary to use solar batteries made from metal with extremely harmful to the environment. Therefore, it is necessary to be able to stabilize the energy production, compared to other sources, to supplement the solar energy.

Today, the efforts made are in the field of photo electricity, for example the use of solar panels. Except that solar panels and batteries are provided elsewhere. And three years later, we must renew everything, which goes against energy sovereignty.

According to a study by the IAEA, in the next 30 years, the electrical scheme will always be ensured by coal and uranium. Therefore, other renewable energy sources may be used for lighting in isolated centers. But to do development, you need strong energy. And speaking of that, there is only coal and nuclear. There are pollution problems with coal. And there is only nuclear.

N2J: What differentiates your mission from that of the National Radiation Protection Center?

DD: The National Center for Radiation Protection is a center for the protection of the population against the dangers of ionizing radiation. He played the role of regulator, the one for which we have just created the ARSN. Today, this Center is dissolved by a law that takes all regulatory entities into the ARSN. Previously, the Center itself practiced and regulated. Now the regulation side goes to the ARSN and the technical service side comes to the Hanea. Therefore, Hanea is responsible for promoting the use of electro-nuclear power while ARSN’s mission is to monitor the implementation of laws for the protection of humans and the environment.

N2J: We found that the population still does not understand much about what nuclear power. Others do not even know that there is a structure of the name of the Hanea. Can you explain simply what are the benefits of nuclear?

DD: For now, we are in a phase where the general public is not yet very informed about the electro-nuclear program. I told you we have 20 areas to look for. Among them, there is a subcommittee specially dedicated to information and public engagement. Its mission is to bring the right information to the public.

As for the benefits of nuclear power, let’s take solar power, Niger is among the best in the world. When taking wind power, Niger is among the best in Africa. But when you take nuclear power, Niger is unique. We are the only ones to dispose of it on the continent.

If we connect today a 1000 MW nuclear power plant, we will have a GDP growth rate of 25% for the first year. This growth will follow 12.5% ​​each year for ten years.

An electro-nuclear program creates 100,000 jobs. There will be 5000 people who will work during the 5 years in the construction of the power station. In addition, the country will benefit from the high technology that will be used to set up this plant.

In our country, for example, in the field of food security, the contribution that can be made in food conservation is enormous because the conservation of products for export is a real challenge today. The shelf life of onions and potatoes is between 7 and 20 days when using conventional techniques. This does not make it possible to derive all the benefits from the producers.

While if we use radiation conservation techniques for conservation, we can extend this time from 6 to 8 months depending on the products. The same applies to potatoes produced at 4 tonnes per hectare. This is enough to feed an entire family. But, resiliently, the population does not turn to this commodity because it cannot be kept until the next cycle of 4 months.

While if we use radiation conservation techniques for conservation, we can extend this time from 6 to 8 months depending on the products. The same applies to potatoes produced at 4 tonnes per hectare. This is enough to feed an entire family. But, the population does not turn to this commodity because it cannot be kept until the next cycle of 4 months.

In the field of water resources management, our subsoil is full of water to supply the population. We are on 4 sedimentary basins. Yet we lack water. So, nuclear technology could allow us to locate exactly where the water is, its quality, its quantity.

In the fight against global warming, 50% of greenhouse gas emissions are due to the production of energy through the CO2 emitted by conventional power plants. A nuclear power plant emits no grams of CO2.

In the field of health, Niger now spends about 2 billion Francs CFA (3,623,000 USD) to send overseas people with cancer. The whole world recognizes that nuclear techniques primarily radiotherapy can effectively cure people with cancer. The same is true for the diagnosis of diabetes, nuclear techniques are the most effective.

If we take the energy field, Niger is the only country that holds 10% of the world’s uranium reserves. We are the fourth largest producer in the world and produce about 5,000 tons of uranium per year. We have a reserve of 1 million 800,000 tons of uranium. If it is evaluated in terms of energy, that’s 3,000 Gigawatts, or 3 million megawatts. We can feed the world with our resource. 150 tons of uranium can produce 1000 Megawatts / hour. This is enough for energy consumption in West Africa.

N2J: Mr. Djibo, according to the feedback we have received on the ground concerning the use of nuclear power, more than one have reservations about possible risks of incidents, explosions at the power plant …

DD: This is related to the history of nuclear power. Unfortunately, the general public has discovered the nuclear sciences in disaster. When we launched a nuclear bomb. This is not the case when we take the other sciences. Otherwise, chemistry, for example, does more damage than nuclear power, but if we talk about chemistry, it does not bother anyone simply because we have experienced peaceful applications of chemistry before we discover their problems. When one takes the plane too, it causes more deaths than the nuclear one, but its peaceful advantages were discovered first. This explains the fact that a nuclear accident is more sensitive than other sciences. To return to your question, nuclear power is, of course, safe, just like other sciences. However, the new measures and the stringency of the measures considerably limit the risk of accidents.

N2J: You said earlier that it is Niger alone that has uranium in Africa. What is the advantage for Africa?

DD: West Africa has a so-called energy trading system, the West African Power Pool (Wapp). Its information center is in Cotonou and today every African country that produces electricity sufficiently has the right to sell it on the regional market. So, if Niger produces enough electricity, it can sell it in the regional system. We are currently electrically connected to 8 countries, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Nigeria.

Also, Niger’s electro-nuclear program is sub regional. In 2014, we held a first meeting of the West African group for the program. Each country will have a part of the program. For example, there will be countries that will specialize in electric transport, others in the supply of fuels or waste management (spent fuel), etc. So, the economic impact will be felt and also the creation of jobs.

Arnaud Lefevre

Arnaud Lefevre

Arnaud Lefevre is the Chief Executive Officer of Dynatom International. Arnaud is in charge of the international development of the business portfolio.
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