PLANS to setup the Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology (CNST) to be constructed by Russian state owned nuclear corporation, Rosatom has cheered a Renewable Energy Expert.
Dr Sichilalu, who is University of Zambia (UNZA) Great East Campus lecturer of Chemical Engineering, says the facility will boast a wide range of applications of radiation technologies in medicine, agriculture and industry.
And Development Activist Leslie Chikuse says the country will reap many economic benefits when the Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology is successfully constructed.
Meanwhile, Dr Sichilalu says the onus is on the owners of the CNST to train local people to manage and operate the facility effectively.
Speaking in an interview, Dr Sichilalu said the facility is important for advancing research in agriculture, medicine and nuclear energy.
He said nuclear energy is a cheaper source of generating enough energy to satisfy the local demand.
“For the research part in Zambia, it is a welcome thing. The more you have nuclear energy, the more you will be powerful like the powerful nations because you keep on advancing the product which you are getting. Though, we don’t intend to go military wise, the nuclear energy is used in different sectors nowadays (even nuclear medicine is very important). All treatments of cancer research such as genetic modification of food can use radiation at the certain extent,” he explained,” The significance of advancement of science is always a positive way. What CNST is going to do is, it will build a capacity to run, operate and manage the nuclear research centre on behalf of the Government and the Government will be able to inherit the capacity.”
Dr Sichilalu said there is need to train workers; specialized skills which must commence at the University of Zambia to enable them run the facility.
He said as things stand in Zambia, apart from the foreign trained workers, there are less than five people trained in energy.
The Scientist said there is need to develop capacity from the technician, technologists, up to engineer level, adding that masters and lectures must be trained in nuclear management and operation.
“The need to construct the facilitate should not be motivated by monetary benefits but it should be when the country doesn’t have energy, when there are no other options of alternative energy and load demand is so high or your science is lagging . Do you want to advance in science research? But it must be built with the initial phase. Before you start constructing, people locally must be trained. You must give a five year period to train the people. It has to start with local capacity to handle the facility,” he said.
Asked if the Russians are best positioned to run the facility since they have the know-how, Dr Sichilalu insisted that there is need to train locals on how to run the CNST.
“The Russians can put it in their bed room because they have the technology. When you create something, you are more aware of it. They can operate it but for how long are you going to depend on foreign expertise? I am pretty sure that the Russians are giving scholarships to our students at the University of Zambia to do nuclear energy. That is a good move but those guys have to have industrial experience. We need people who have worked in nuclear set up. Unless, we know the motive why we are putting it up, that is if we are lacking energy or we just want to advance the research. If you want to advance the research in nuclear energy for medical, agriculture and all associated applications then well and good,” he said.
Dr Sichilalu said once successfully set up, maintenance of CNST should be put to consideration, saying if there is a leakage of water or radiation, the environment becomes very unsafe.
“We are self-evidence as Zambians that maintenance is not in our genes. Maybe, we have to introduce a course in maintenance from grade one curriculum. We can build buildings but just after a few days, they go down and never replaced. So, it will happen to the same nuclear facility. Once the builder transfers the technology and operations, maintenance will be relaxed. If there is leakage of water, leakage of pipe and leakage of radiation in the perimeters of 200 Kilometers, it is not safe. Within 200 Kilometers from where the facility is, if there is an accident, the effect is going to be felt. You are instantly going into radiation and people who are within the radius of 50 Kilometers have to evacuate, there should be no human beings, no living creature to be there. So, you can see the consequences. On the research part, it is very good. It is the cheaper source of getting billions of Mega Watts you want from nuclear,” Dr Sichilalu said
He said maintenance must continue even after shutting down the facility.
“When the technology is brought to you, the fear is exit strategy. When it is shut down, you still need people to maintain it. Once there is leakage, you can’t clean it. If there is a leakage, you are gone. So, you still need people to be working on it even when it is totally shut down. Even if you stop using it, people must continue working around there. You have to safely bury the whole system, every piece of block that was there back to where it came from so that they can be maintained. Your hand can never be relieved from the facility once it is erected. Hydro power station or thermal power energy can be left after winding up but nuclear energy is maintained so that you are not accused of negligence. There is no exit strategy. In this case, there should be no leakage to reactor, no cracks to the concrete, no fly zones and no people trespassing without safety measures,” he cautioned, “if you want it for research part, medical as well as advancement of… how say it the way it is, if you want to advance weaponry research or energy research, you can bring it but be assured that the exit strategy for the facility that is open is very, very difficult. You have to cling to it like your baby. It is like you have put the poison in your body (in the balloon) and when it bursts, you are gone.”
Dr Sichilalu added that it is the obligation of the owners to address the dangers associated to the facility.
“There shouldn’t be anyone in the proximity of 10km because there are errors everywhere and it can explode. There is nothing so perfect in engineering that you can be reliably say mitigations are there. Anything can happen. We don’t need residents, especially when they are not trained to militate against calamity. It is an obligation of one who is bringing the facility to explain to the locals the dangers especially when there is an accident. Of course, within the 100 meters, residents have to leave their village for good. You can cite the Nuclear Disaster in Japan and America, there is no one nearby those areas. The all city has to migrate; the all community has to come out. If you put it in the perimeter like Kafue for example, if there is an accident there, Lusaka has to come out. The all town will have to leave. With exposure of say one hour, you can have radiation which will cause mutation on your children. Your nuclear DNA will be altered where you have children without heads, without legs and even death rate would increase,” Dr Sichilalu warned.
He, however, said the facility has been successful installed in South Africa.
Meanwhile, Mr Chikuse said economic benefits in setting up a nuclear facility in the country will be immense.
He said the installation of the facility will bring about job creation “I am aware of the project and to me it is a very good move because there will be lots of economic gains for the country. Jobs will be created in the field of agriculture and medicine but of course this will be highly specialised jobs because of the nature of the facility,” Mr Chikuse said, “Overall, the country will attain economic development from the project,” Mr Chikuse said.
For ten years up to 2014, Zambia had one of the world’s fastest growing economies with real GDP growth averaging roughly 6.7% per annum. Nevertheless, in 2015 economic growth slowed down dramatically to 3.6% mainly due to an overdependence on copper import which in turn suffered from China’s economic slowdown. Thus according to a World Bank report in 2017, Zambia’s economic growth recovered to an estimated 3.9% (from 3.8% in 2016) on the back of a bumper crop harvest and better electricity supply. Despite stronger economic growth and its status as a lower middle-income country, the Zambia has a strong commitment to become a middle-income country by 2030 and to reach long-term sustainability.
However, there are serious challenges to achieving this goal:, widespread and rural poverty as a result of high unemployment levels remains a significant problem. If the country hopes to meet its full economic potential in order to solve these issues it needs to further diversify its economy.
This sentiment is highlighted in details in the country’s Seventh National Development Plan which outlines Government’s aspirations to deliver a prosperous middle income economy that offers decent employment opportunities for all Zambians of different skills and background, by harnessing opportunities for economic diversification and growth.
The plan further states that economic diversification offers Zambians opportunities to realize additional jobs and benefits from Zambia’s vast endowment of natural and human resources. Zambians, both from rural and urban areas, will benefit from a stronger and more diversified economy that supports a strong manufacturing base. The vast raw materials in agriculture and mining offer opportunities for value addition through forward linkages to manufacturing and agro-processing, and increased production and exportation of non-traditional exports to domestic and international markets.
In the 2018 National Budget Address the Minister of Finance reiterated the Government’s commitment to diversification and noted that industrialization is a key to the promotion of value addition and the attainment of its ambitious economic diversification agenda.
One project that government has embarked on under the auspices of this plan to promote economic diversification is the construction of The Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology (CNST). The center which will be constructed by Russian state owned nuclear corporation, Rosatom will boast a wide range of applications of radiation technologies in medicine, agriculture and industry, which includes a technological industry platform to enhance national industry development. The CNST also promises to promote the enhancement of national education and science through the training of highly qualified experts in various fields.
Mr. Reuben Katebe, National Coordinator of the CNST project highlighted that the center is going to open up many opportunities for the country to grow its economy in various sectors, especially those which are still developing. “The center will be used for research, science and the production of live saving medicine. It is not about producing electricity. It is for the greater good of our people and not about destruction as many here perceive. ”
Dmitri Vysotski, Director of Nuclear Research Reactors at Rusatom Overseas, noted that global experience demonstrates that the development of nuclear technology has contributed to significant technical progress in numerous social and economic fields. And the Center for the nuclear research and technologies that Zambian government plans to build in Chongwe will make it possible for Zambia to boost its social and economic development, as the potential of the center has a broad range of applications in medicine, agriculture, mining exploration and industry.
What are the main economic advantages of building CNST?
The CNST will bring various economic advantages, including but not limited to the following; new technological industry platforms, national industry development, improving regional investment climates, agricultural export growth, new jobs as well as increased life expectancy and improved quality of life for the economically active population.