By Arese Carrington
I read an article on April 26, 2016, in a Nigerian newspaper, entitled, “Nuclear power not safe for Nigeria” authored by Senator Shehu Sani. I hope his voice will not be a lone voice on this issue while the citizens he is trying to protect look on. Although I don’t live in Nigeria, it is my native land and I love my native land, the people are my people and thus their predicament my concern.
Despite the efficiency of the Japanese government and its people, their advancement in technology and history of excellent disaster management preparedness, the nuclear disaster in Japan is proving to be one of the worst nuclear disasters, since Chernobyl.
History is the study of the present and the past to project into the future. Nigeria’s history of disaster management or maintenance culture in the past and the present leaves much to be desired of, so how can it want to project into a future of nuclear energy with all the attendant risk?
It does not take an expert in nuclear energy to be able to state basic obvious facts that are glaring. Any major accident involving radiation leaks from nuclear energy can lead to a disaster of catastrophic proportion that could lead to thousands of death, long term health problems, spikes in cancer incidents and birth defects. The devastation of a nuclear disaster in a highly populated country like Nigeria will send shock waves around the world. A breach in the nuclear containers of a nuclear reactor or a nuclear meltdown will release nuclear materials into the atmosphere and ground and could literally obliterate parts of the country and turn them into waste lands and “ghost lands”.
No matter how prepared even the extremely prepared and efficient countries are, in a case of a nuclear disaster, they can only try to mitigate the damage, so what chance would Nigeria have if a nuclear meltdown were to occur in the country? Even if the argument is that the likelihood of a nuclear disaster is minuscule, should Nigeria of today, the way it is, subject its people to that risk? The risk outweighs the benefit.
Thirty years on, the Chernobyl disaster is still vivid in our minds and the impacts of the damaging effects are still being felt. Was it not in Koko, Delta State that someone shipped in containers of nuclear waste some years ago?
Countries try to get rid of their radioactive waste, yet a Nigerian shipped it into his country and dumped it amongst his people. The community, struggling under their daily routine for survival, did not sense the imminent danger and instead opened up the containers, used them to collect water and for other domestic use. By the time the government brought it to public knowledge, the people in the affected area of Koko had been exposed to radiation. When scientists came with Geiger counters to measure the amount of radiation in the area and also on the people, a lot of them did not understand what was going on and had little understanding of the dangers of nuclear radiation. Have the people of Koko been followed? Have longitudinal studies been done on their health status? Were children born in that area since the episode monitored? Is the soil in that area still being tested regularly or have the people of Koko been forgotten? These are but a few of the questions.
It took about 400 children to die before something was done about the lead poisoning saga in a rural community of Zamfara State. Sadly, the Chibok girls are still missing. All they wanted was to get an education so they could carve out a better future for themselves and yet their country could not protect them. Their safety could not be guaranteed against Boko Haram. What is the guarantee that these nuclear plants can be adequately protected?
The people deserve constant electricity but do not deserve to die for it. Which state and whose “backyard” are the nuclear power plants going to be built in? The people need to understand the imminent danger of a nuclear power plant being built in their “backyard”. Constant electricity supply is important for economic development. The N2bn that has been allocated for nuclear plants in the 2016 budget should be used for safer methods of electricity generation.
Nigeria is blessed with sunshine; it can invest in solar energy. It has vast areas of empty flat land so it can invest in wind energy by using turbines. It has valleys and lakes thus, it can invest in hydro electric power by building dams. Kainji dam is one of the longest dams in the world. Was the dam ever maintained? Are all the hydroelectric turbines working? Even if the dam is drying up, additional new hydroelectric dams can be built. Hydroelectric power stations if properly maintained can be a relative inexpensive source of power supply. There are a lot of hydroelectric power stations around the world today. Sun, wind and water, these are all safer renewable sources of energy. Nuclear power is not a child’s play and even the developed and prepared countries have seen that.
The birth of a child is a time of great rejoicing, yet what type of country are we bringing that child into? Is the planet being sustained for future generations?
As a country, do we plan a future for that child? No matter their socio-economic status, is the child assured of basic human rights such as health, education and shelter? Will they be able to get a job or have the ability to generate income when they grow up? It seems that sayings like “A good name is better than riches” and “honesty is the best policy” have gone down the drain in Nigeria. The country needs good governance, accountability, honest people that are truly vested in the people. The future of the country must not be discounted. What have we chosen to do with the truth? As a nation and as individual, we must begin to speak the truth because the truth shall set the nation free.
Dr Carrington is an international public health consultant based in the United States of America.