And God said: “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness.
Not long ago, somewhere at Peduase, near Aburi, close to the mountain, a group of people- nuclear scientists, engineers, administrators and journalists- met to discuss the proposed introduction of nuclear power into Ghana’s energy mix.
And in the evenings, standing on the edges of the mountain, it was sight to behold electricity glowing to light parts of the cities of Accra and Tema.
And hurray! At the end of August 2022, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo incorporated the inclusion of nuclear technology into Ghana’s power generation mix.
The move is in consonance with the global collective commitment to the sustainable availability of power, and the peaceful exploitation of nuclear energy for the benefit of our citizens, to enhance rapid industrialization, and to propel economic growth.
In a statement, the President said the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC), through its Technical Institute (the Nuclear Power Institute, NPI-GAEC), and with the support from other national bodies, has met all the Phase-1 nuclear infrastructure requirements as recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Milestone’s approach.
President Akufo said: “I, hereby, announce and instruct the Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI) and the Minister for Energy (MoE), in collaboration with the Chief of Staff at the Office of the President, to take all the necessary steps to move the Ghana Nuclear Power Programme Organisation (GNPPO) from the Ministry of Energy to the Office of the President, to enhance proper coordination among the key institutions already established.”
Additionally, “GAEC and its technical Institute (NPI-GAEC) will continue to play its supportive role to the GNPPO at the Office of the President following its re-alignment.”
The declaration stated further that, the Government of Ghana has adopted the content of the Programme Comprehensive Report as a reflection of nuclear power infrastructure issues in the country, committed to the peaceful uses of nuclear technology, as well as, continue their international cooperation and collaborations and participate in enhancing knowledge in all peaceful applications of nuclear technology.
The President’s approval for the inclusion of nuclear power into the country’s power generation mix indicates that Ghana is ready to go nuclear.
Light was made at the beginning of creation; and if nuclear energy or power would bring light for good purposes and sustain life, it should be welcomed.
But Ghana’s recent history has recorded explosions connected with fire, a form of light, that occurred in Apiatse, Atomic Junction; and the water/fire disaster at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra on June 3, 2015.
These were not nuclear incidents, but the destruction was impactful.
The mention of nuclear brings to mind the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when the United States detonated two atomic bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9 1945, respectively.
The two bombings killed between 129,000 and 226,000 people, most of who were civilians.
There was also the Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor accident, near Middletown, in the USA.
The reactor was partially melted down on March 28, 1979. This was the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history, although its small radioactive releases had no detectable health effects on plant workers or the public.
And in 1986, there was the Chernobyl disaster. It was a nuclear accident that occurred on April 26 1986 at the No. 4 reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat in the north of the Ukrainian SSR in the Soviet Union.
It was one of only two nuclear energy accidents rated at Level Seven on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale—the maximum severity—on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The other disaster was the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster followed a major earthquake. A 15-metre tsunami disabled the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi reactors, causing a nuclear accident beginning on 11 March 2011. All three cores largely melted in the first three days.
Ghana’s sources of electricity
Electricity supply in Ghana had been mainly through hydro sources until the late 1990s when the government introduced thermal plants to complement hydro sources.
However, demand for electric power in the country has continuously seen a yearly upward increase.
Ghana has an installed generation capacity of about 5,043MW with a peak demand of 3,090 MW in 2020.
If there would be adequate electricity and energy to support the growing population, industry and the entire economy, there is the need to look for other suitable and sustainable sources to meet the demands of national growth, development and expansion.
Experts consider the nation as having potentials in the areas of solar, wind; and limited gas and crude resources.
It also has a number of hydro potential sites, with a single maximum site capacity of about 100MW.
Ghana’s decision to include nuclear power in its energy mix has led the country to establish Nuclear Power Ghana Limited as an Owner Operator and the project developer.
Part of the proposed nuclear programme is to develop Nuclear Power Ghana’s competencies towards delivering on its mission to build and safely operate Ghana’s first nuclear power plant.
The NPG has announced that it will choose a preferred site for the country’s first commercial nuclear power station by the end of this year, 2022.
The presidential assent to nuclear energy gives impetus to find a lasting solution to the energy crisis, dumsor. Nuclear generation is expected to begin in 2030.
The Idea of the inclusion of nuclear energy to the country’s energy mix was birthed by the first president of the country, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, when in 1964, he cut the sod for the Ghana Nuclear Reactor Project (GNRP) which was intended to introduce nuclear technology in Ghana as well as find ways the country could safely exploit nuclear energy for growth and development.
After his overthrow, the nuclear power agenda was put on hold and it was not until the electricity power crises of the 2000’s, before the issue of adding nuclear energy to the energy mix was revisited.
Nuclear energy is said to be clean, reliable, and safe. It can support agricultural improvements, clean water, advanced medical treatments, and more.
It is a proposed solution to the climate crisis, which is serious and urgent. Four coastal nuclear sites have been identified and five international vendors to cabinet for evaluation and approval. The vendors include US, Russia, Canada and South Korea.
The NPG has been given the mandate to lead the construction and operation of the proposed nuclear station.
In October 2019, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Ghana had made progress implementing recommendations of a 2017 IAEA integrated nuclear infrastructure review (INIR) mission.
That review had provided 12 recommendations and eight suggestions to help Ghana in making progress in its nuclear infrastructure development.
The Vienna, Austria based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) then said further work was needed in areas such as government funding, stakeholder involvement planning, fuel cycle options for the first nuclear power plant and goals for local participation.
Nuke energy, with its pros and cons, provokes intense debates and there are opinions for all tastes. It is critical to comprehend all sides to appreciate the capability of the energy source.
What is nuclear energy?
Nuclear energy is what is found in the nucleus of an atom, the smallest particles into which chemical elements known can be divided.
Atoms can be differentiated by their electric charge: Neutrons have no charge; protons have a positive charge and electrons have a negative charge.
The atom is always neutral as it has the same number of protons and electrons. What binds neutrons and protons together in the nucleus is nuclear energy.
It is possible to release this energy to obtain electricity.
From ancient Greece, since the time of atomist philosophers headed by Democritus of Abdera, science has evolved and there is now a better understanding of atoms and what can be done with them.
The emergence and evolvement of different atomic models at end of the 19th century, and during the 20th century, have enabled experiments, and research progressed until we were able to put into practice methods that would enable us to make use of nuclear energy.
How is nuclear energy obtained?
Nuclear energy, generated through fusion (joining) or fission (separating), is obtained by the disintegration of uranium atoms in nuclear power plants. Fission occurs in nuclear power plants, and fusion occurs naturally.
Uranium is the main source of fuel for these installations. Uranium is used because its instability generates reactions that nuclear power plants provoke to obtain energy.
In some cases, plutonium is also used.
Any method used will cause collisions between the subatomic particles and a loss of mass, releasing a large amount of heat energy. With fission in a power plant, this energy is converted into steam, and this starts a turbine attached to an alternator and as a result, electricity is generated.
Nuclear fusion requires high temperatures. The optimisation and creation of plants prepared for this process will beneficial for the environment. The replacement of uranium by hydrogen, an inexhaustible and clean source, is just one example.
Challenges of nuclear energy
There are, however, numerous drawbacks to nuclear energy to consider.
First, nuclear power plants are affordable to operate but are relatively expensive to construct. The expected cost of nuclear plant construction has increased from $2- $4 billion to $9 billion between 2002 and 2008 and often, their cost estimates are surpassed during construction.
Aside from the cost of constructing a power plant, nuclear reactors must allocate funds for waste that is generated, which must be stored in cooled facilities with strict security protocols.
All the costs and expenditures make nuclear power rather costly upfront.
It also leads to the generation of radioactive waste. While no emissions are produced in nuclear energy generation, a bi-product of radioactive waste is developed.
The waste must be stored in secure facilities to avoid polluting the environment.
Radiation is not harmful in small quantities, but radioactive waste from nuclear plants is hazardous.
Storage of radioactive waste is a significant concern and cost for nuclear power plants. There is no way to destroy nuclear waste; the only current solution is to seal and store it in deep underground facilities. As technology improves, there will hopefully be the development of better ways of storing radioactive waste in the near future.
Nuclear power plants are heavily dependent on thorium and uranium to generate electricity. Before the supply of thorium and uranium is depleted, a nuclear fusion or breeder reactor will have to be created, otherwise, power generation will not be possible. Currently, nuclear power is only an expensive short-term option for power generation due to diminishing resources.
Impact on the environment
The most significant impact on the environment stems from the destructive process of uranium mining. Both open-pit and underground mining can mine uranium.
Open-pit mining is generally a safe process for miners, but generates radioactive waste while causing erosion and, on some occasions, polluting water supplies.
Underground mining exposes miners to a far greater risk of radiation poisoning than open-pit mining. While also producing large amounts of the radioactive waste rock during both processing and extraction.
Nuclear power generates waste from the material used and there are concerns about possible accidents or leaks, since uranium is not a renewable source, at least not for now. One of the drawbacks of this material is its high radioactivity, as well as having a very long half-life.
Advantages of Nuclear Power
Nuclear power plants generate enormous heat produced during nuclear fission at the core of the nuclear plant. This is where ceramic pellets are housed and are made from uranium fuel. In comparison, around 150 litres of oil can generate energy that one ceramic pellet can.
The splitting apart of atoms into smaller atoms during nuclear fission releases energy, and heat is generated. This is then used to produce steam. The steam is then transferred to stimulate the rotation of the blade turbines to produce nuclear power.
Among the advantages of nuclear energy are that it has overall low cost of operation, it is a consistent source of energy and has predictable output. It is not affected by weather conditions compared to other sources such as wind and solar power.
Nuclear fission generates far more energy than fossil fuel combustion such as coal, oil, or gas. The process produces almost 8,000 times more power than typical fossil fuels, resulting in less material used and causing less waste. All-year-round energy production is feasible, allowing for favourable returns on initial investment due to no energy production delays.
It is estimated the world has enough uranium to produce electricity for the next 70-80 years. It does not seem like a long enough period, but in comparison to fossil fuels, they are expected to diminish in a far less period.
Additionally, there are current investigations into alternative power sources for nuclear energy.
It also generates low amounts of pollution as is the lowest carbon emission energy source and a lower carbon footprint compared to other sources such as fossil fuels.
The majority of carbon dioxide emissions primarily occur during the fueling process and construction of the plant, but not during electricity generation.
The overall pollutant generation from nuclear plants is relatively modest compared with fossil fuel energy generation.
Currently, nuclear energy usage cuts more than 555 million metric tons of carbon production each year.
The greenhouse reduction is an excellent sign of how crossing over to nuclear energy will reduce the long-term impact on global climate change.
Yes, nuke energy is a promising alternative and reliable energy resource for future electricity needs.
There may be challenges.
However, no industry is immune to challenges, but challenges provide opportunities for growth, maturity and development.
Nuclear power? Yes let it come. No fears for nuclear power in Ghana.
We say: “Let it come, let it come!