By Eugène Kwibuka
Legal experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are in Rwanda for a three-day mission to train Rwandan officials about the international legal framework on how to ensure nuclear safety, security, and civil liability for nuclear damage.
Rwanda, which became a full member of IAEA in 2011 with an aim to achieve safe, secure, and peaceful use of atomic energy, is busy setting up the right legal framework in order to undertake activities to generate nuclear or atomic energy.
The country is also looking to set up a Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology (CNST) within the next five years.
Below are five important things that you should know about nuclear energy:
1. Nuclear energy is generated by splitting atoms, mostly uranium atoms
Nuclear energy, also called atomic energy, comes from splitting atoms in a reactor to heat water into steam, turn a turbine and generate electricity.
Given that reactors in nuclear power plants use uranium, the technology doesn’t produce dangerous carbon emissions such as those produced by fossil fuels such as coal power plant.
But nuclear power process heat has many other essential uses across multiple sectors, including consumer products, food and agriculture, industry, medicine and scientific research, transport, and water resources and the environment.
2. Many developed countries use nuclear energy to generate electricity for their homes and businesses
Many European countries have a significant share of their electricity generation made from nuclear energy. France leads others in this area, deriving about 75 per cent of its electricity from nuclear energy.
Then it is followed by Ukraine with 55.1 per cent, Hungary with 50 per cent, Belgium with 49.9 per cent, and Sweden with 39.6 per cent.
In North America, the atomic technology is also used to generate electricity, with about 15 per cent of Canada’s electricity coming from nuclear power while in the U.S. 20 percent of generated electricity comes from nuclear power. In Russia, the rate is at 17.8 per cent.
In Africa, only South Africa currently has a nuclear power plant.
3. How much electricity does a nuclear power plant generate?
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the R. E. Ginna Nuclear Power Plant in New York is the smallest nuclear power plant in the United States, and it has one reactor with an electricity generating capacity of 582 megawatts (MW).
The Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Arizona is the largest nuclear power plant in the United States with three reactors and a total electricity generating capacity of about 3,937 MW.
4. How much does it cost to build a nuclear power plant?
Nuclear energy power plants are very expensive to build because they have an extremely high initial cost.
The cost for building a nuclear power plant is so large that private companies are normally unable to handle the financial risk without guarantees and subsidies from governments.
A nuclear reactor requires about $10 billion to build but the high cost is normally driven by regulation standards to ensure security and safety of people and the environment while building and managing the plants.
5. Africa could soon embrace nuclear energy to respond to its electricity demands
In Africa, only South Africa currently has a nuclear power plant providing about 5 per cent of South Africa’s electricity.
On a continent where only about 50 per cent of the population is connected to electricity, some countries have recently shown interest to go nuclear to address their energy challenges.
Among them include Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan, which have already engaged with the IAEA to assess their readiness to embark on a nuclear programme. Rwanda, Algeria, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia are also considering the possibility of acquiring nuclear power.