SPECIAL REPORT: Amidst safety concerns, Nigeria signs nuclear power project with Russia’s Rosatom

Nuclear plant used to illustrate the story. [Photo credit: Construction & Engineering Digest]

Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy company, Rosatom, has continued its march towards launching multi-billion dollar nuclear power plants in Nigeria despite concerns about poor quality control and safety, PREMIUM TIMES can report.

Operating in over 40 countries with projects worth an estimated $133 billion, Rosatom has a history of non-transparent procedures, insufficient resources, and on-site accidents, a 2017 report by Greenpeace, an independent global campaigning organisation, highlighted.

The report, ‘Rosatom Risks: Exposing the Troubled History of Russia’s State Nuclear Corporation,’ highlights a string of sharp practices as well as accidents on the sites of Rosatom projects in four European countries.

For instance, at its Leningrad 2 construction site in Russia in July 2015, a sling snapped during the lifting of 70 tonne protective pipes and the pipes fell from 20 metres height into a spent fuel pool. The accident resulted in a six-month delay of the project.

At a meeting in Abu Dhabi in October, 2017, Russia signed an agreement with Nigeria to build and operate a nuclear power plant, the first of its kind on the continent, as well as a research centre that would house a nuclear research reactor.

The agreement was a furtherance of a memorandum of understanding signed last year between the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission, NAEC, and Rosatom for the construction of four nuclear power plants at the cost $20 billion (more than N6 trillion). The four plants will have a total capacity of 4,800 megawatts by 2035.

Anton Moskvin, Vice President for Marketing and Business Development, Rosatom Overseas (a subsidiary of Rosatom), and Simon Mallam, Chairman of NAEC, signed the agreement on behalf of Rosatom and Nigeria respectively.

“The development of nuclear technologies will allow Nigeria to strengthen its position as one of the leading countries of the African continent,” Mr. Moskvin said at the ceremony.

“These are the projects of a large scale and strategic importance, that will determine the relationship between our two countries in the long term.”

GOING NUCLEAR

Nigeria has been a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency since 1964, more than a decade before it established its atomic energy commission aimed at promoting and developing its nuclear technology.

But its nuclear relationship with Russia did not begin until 2009 when both countries signed an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the field of the peaceful usage of nuclear technologies. Shortly after, another agreement was signed on cooperation in design, construction, operation and decommissioning of the Nuclear Power Plant and the Nuclear Research Centre housing a multi-purpose nuclear research reactor.

In 2013, Nigeria signed its Country Programme Framework (CPF), a five-year medium-term planning of technical cooperation between a member state and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that identifies priority areas where the transfer of nuclear technology and technical cooperation resources will be directed to support national development goals.

The IAEA is an international organisation that seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and prevents its use for any military purpose such as nuclear weapons.

In June 2015, the Nigerian government invited five IAEA experts to review the country’s emergency preparedness to nuclear and radiological accidents as it begins to ramp up its efforts to add nuclear electricity to the energy mix.

“Nigeria clearly showed that it understands the importance of being well prepared to respond to nuclear or radiological issues when it requested this EPREV (Emergency Preparedness Review) mission,” said Denis Flory, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of its Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, at the end of the 10-day inspection.

“This is a cornerstone of nuclear safety. The IAEA is very pleased to assist Nigeria in identifying strengths and opportunities for improvements in a spirit of transparency.”

Nigeria uses radiation sources extensively in medical and industrial applications as well as in science and research, but the government has decided to introduce nuclear power by 2025, according to the IAEA.

In May 2016, the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission signed an agreement with the Russian government for cooperation in the construction of a centre for nuclear science and technology in the country.

“Nuclear acquisition has come to stay,” Erepano Osaisai, chief executive of NAEC, said at the event.

“It is well known that it contributes quite a chunk of global electricity. Although Nigeria does have other sources of energy, but this is about a balanced and diversified energy basket. Nuclear happens to be the one we considered.

“The preference is because it is environmentally friendly and leads to a better conservation of other resources.”

Over the past few years, the Nigerian government has heightened its resolve to explore nuclear energy as an additional source of electricity.

The 2017 budget proposal had N633 million allocated to nuclear power plant planning, site characterization, and selection projects while the proposal for 2018 had N400 million budgeted for the “ongoing” planning and development of nuclear power plant infrastructure. The budget for the same projects in 2015 was N26 million.

Furthermore, in the 2018 budget proposal, there is a further N150 million proposed for the completion and equipping of low/intermediate level radioactive waste management facility at the Nuclear Technology Centre at Sheda.

‘A SECRET AGREEMENT’

Rosatom is the Ministry for Atomic Energy of the Russian Federation which in 2007 was transformed to a non-profit Russian state corporation. The company engages in uranium extraction and production, nuclear power generation, nuclear fuel, and nuclear weapons. It also engages in nuclear power plant design, engineering, and construction.

The company’s nuclear business though widely claimed as successful is heavily subsidised by the Russian taxpayers by as much as €2 billion, according to the Greenpeace report.

But the company’s continued federal support could take a hit due to Russia’s worsening budget deficit – from €4.4 billion in 2014 to €31.5 billion in 2016, and a projected €43.2 billion in 2017.

Last March, Alexey Likhachev, Rosatom’s new director, announced that state support for the company would end in 2020.

In Nigeria, civil society activists accuse the government of ramping up its efforts to introduce nuclear energy and getting in bed with Rosatom without carrying her citizens along.

For instance, their efforts to know the details of the agreement signed with Rosatom had been futile, they said.

“How was the choice of Rosatom arrived at?” Philip Jakpor, Spokesperson at the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), asked.

“Where will the funds to build the $20 billion nuclear plant come from?”

In February 2008, a team of nuclear safety experts from the IAEA deployed to the country, at the request of the Nigerian government, to help secure and transport potentially hazardous radioactive sources encountered challenges such as vehicle breakdowns, equipment delays, and traffic jams. At one recovery mission, the team had to complete its task under the dark of night due to an unforeseen equipment delay.

Such basic infrastructural deficits are some of the reasons environmentalists cite when alluding to Nigeria’s unpreparedness for nuclear technology.

“First thing that comes to mind when nuclear is mentioned is radioactive wastes, our concern is, judging by the experience in fossil fuels, that we might be heading towards an environmental disaster,” said Akinbode Oluwafemi, Deputy Director at ERA/FoEN.

“We don’t have confidence in using nuclear energy to solve our energy needs, there are safer alternatives like solar and wind.

“Another concern is the secrecy with which everything is carried out. No media or civil society consultation on this project. From the little research we have done, even Rosatom have a very bad safety record.”

On November 27 2017, the Centre for Social Change and Citizenship Education (CENSOCHANGE) in partnership with the Journalists Initiative for Sustainable Environment (JISE) held a one-day workshop in Lagos on ‘Connecting Local Outrage to Global Campaigns Against Nuclear Plants’ in Lagos. Participants drawn from the civil society, media, community-based organisations and pro-democracy groups observed that the Nigerian government had not been forthcoming on details of the MOU and recent agreement signed with Russia on the construction of nuclear reactors.

Participants further observed a lack of community and civil society consultation in the plans to build nuclear plants in Akwa Ibom and Kogi states as well as that Rosatom’s global track record in relation to safety standards is fraught with questionable procedures including not carrying out Environmental Impact Assessment in some countries.

They noted the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine in which, at least, 30 people died from acute radiation poisoning and the Fukushima, Japan, incident in 2011 which led to the evacuation of about 100,000 people from their homes till date.

In 2015, the NAEC selected Itu, Akwa Ibom State, and Geregu, Kogi State, as sites for two nuclear plants with a combined capacity of 2,400 megawatts.

“We visited Itu early this year (2017) and I can assure you that there has not been any consultation with the community,” Mr. Jakpor said.

lia Simes, a Finnish journalist, said Nigeria’s electricity challenges could pose a problem for the nuclear reactor.

“Nuclear power plants need good electricity grid – they cannot use the electricity they produce, but they need a lot of external electricity and so you have to constantly – non-stop – feed electricity to the reactor,” said Ms. Simes, who worked for Greenpeace Finland.

“It is risky, dirty and expensive. Nobody knows how the wastes will be managed in the future.”

Rosatom abroad

In Africa, in addition to Nigeria, Rosatom is also eyeing nuclear power plant constructions in Ghana and South Africa.

But in April this year, a Western Cape High Court in South Africa ruled that the government’s initial agreements with three countries, including Russia, to help it build nuclear power plants were invalid and unconstitutional.

Judge Lee Bozalek held that the government flouted due process by not first debating in parliament – or consulting the public – its decision to procure 9.6 gigawatts of nuclear power.

In 2010, Rosatom signed a bilateral agreement with Turkey to Build-Own-Operate (BOO) the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, to be owned by Akkuyu NGS Electricity Generation Joint Stock Company.

The four-unit 4,800 megawatts plants have a lifespan of 60 years.

Out of the five shareholders of Akkuyu NGS, three Russian companies – all subsidiaries of Rosatom – own 100 percent of the shares and according to the bilateral agreement; Rosatom’s shares cannot be lowered below 51 per cent.

In 2016, Akkuyu NGS announced it had decided to sell part of its shares to Cengiz Insaat, a controversial company accused of unlawful practices in coal power and mining investments.

Greenpeace Turkey exposed ongoing construction work in the field without the relevant administrative permits, such as Environmental Impact Assessments and licence.

The Greenpeace report quoted the Turkish Minister of Environment and Urbanism, Idris Gulluce, as approving the EIA report while the process was still ongoing by saying: ‘What is the problem if we make a gesture to Putin by confirming the EIA Report?’ during a Vladimir Putin visit to Turkey.

That gesture by the minister resulted in, at least, 13 lawsuits against the EIA approval.

“In the context of one of these lawsuits, a field visit by the court was conducted in the Akkuyu project area on 5 December 2016,” the report stated.

“During this excursion, a representative of Rosatom explicitly stated that because Rosatom does not have experience in the construction of a nuclear power station on a coastal site, Rosatom created the plan in line with French legislation.”

The Akkuyu EIA report did not address the issue of decommissioning of the power station, the report noted.

Prior to the 2015 accident at Leningrad 2 accident, a near-fatal incident had occurred four years earlier. A strong wind had caused a 14-metre high reinforcement structure to collapse at the Unit 1 of the construction site but a foreman managed to evacuate workers just on time.

Five months later, defects were discovered in the containment structure of the reactors and in July 2011, the 600-800 tonne reinforcement cage of the containment building fell on its concrete frame. There were no casualties in the incident because the workers had left the site for lunch shortly before the collapse.

The weight of the cage caused the concrete frame to crack and the entire structure had to be replaced, leading to significantly increased costs and almost a year-long delay in the project.

In the spring of 2016, yet another scandal erupted at the Leningrad 2 site, with help from the Russian environmental NGO Green World, according to the Greenpeace report.

“A whistle-blower working for the main construction contractor Titan 2 published a 49-page-long report describing serious problems at the site.

“According to the report, issues included falsifications of the documents regarding the heat treatment methods for primary circuit pipeline welds. Such behaviour indicates an unacceptably lax safety culture and oversight failure.

“The whistle-blower subsequently fled Russia out of concern for his safety. Rosatom and Titan 2 denied the allegations.”

In Bulgaria, the government in 2012 cancelled the Belene nuclear project for which Rosatom was the vendor and the company dragged the country before the Paris Arbitration Court demanding roughly €1 billion in compensation for breach of contract and material already prepared. In 2016, the court awarded the company €620 million as compensation for material already prepared.

“Despite this, the BSP (Bulgarian Socialist Party) and the Bulgarian nuclear lobby continues to doggedly pursue the restart of the Belene construction project, now using the argument that the country already paid for equipment that otherwise would go wasted,” Greenpeace stated.

“Attempts to sell the two already manufactured pressure vessels and a heat exchanger to Iran and India were fruitless.

“Because construction costs still are too high to make sense for Bulgaria, restart of the project is extremely unlikely.”

Rosatom owned 34 percent of Fennovoima, the Finnish-Russian nuclear power company in Finland. In August last year, it emerged that a Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority STUK safety audit flagged several severe shortcomings in the company.

According to the STUK audit report, some workers interviewed for the audit claimed to have been put under pressure, sidelined, or even “smoked out’ for drawing attention to safety concerns or questionable practices.

Email to the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority was not responded to.

But in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Simon Mallam, the chairman of the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission, waved aside any safety concerns regarding the project. He, however, admitted a shortage of funding has affected the agency’s capacity to function optimally.

“For instance, our overhead cost (received) in the last two, three years is less than N12 million monthly, for all the headquarters and all these (various nuclear) centres, you have to manage it,” said Mr. Mallam, whose agency’s last “major news and events” update on their official website is a signing of an MOU between NAEC and SMEDAN on food preservation in Nigeria in 2009.

“Last year we had an overhead of only eight months, this year we have had only six months. So there is no magic we can do.

“The issue is not that they (radiation) are dangerous to workers or people living there, radiation sources will not fly, but the key thing is to keep the source in its particular condition. We are gradually improving and we are hoping that with releases of more funds, we’ll be able to do one or two things.”

The agency also told PREMIUM TIMES that the government had recently signed another agreement on nuclear technology with China and would compare it with the one with Russia to know which would be more beneficial to the country.


DOWNLOAD THE PREMIUM TIMES MOBILE APP

Now available on

  Premium Times Android mobile applicationPremium Times iOS mobile applicationPremium Times blackberry mobile applicationPremium Times windows mobile application

TEXT AD: To place a text-based advert here. Call Willie


All rights reserved. This material and any other material on this platform may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, written or distributed in full or in part, without written permission from PREMIUM TIMES.