Nuclear power to the rescue as traditional energy sources plateau

Africa’s sole nuclear power plant, Koeberg Nuclear Plant, in South Africa

Bogged by projected declines in traditional energy sources, Ghana is now banking its hopes on nuclear power plants (NPP) to help keep the recent strong investments in generation steady to meet national consumption needs and turn on new factories.

The growing appetite for nuclear power is to help avoid a repeat of a six decade old dilemma, when the influx of factories just after independence caused energy demand to outstrip supply, then resulting in the demise of most of the factories.

With plans afoot to build a factory each in the 254 districts nationwide, the Ministry of Energy forecasts that traditional energy generation resources – gas, petroleum and hydro-fired plants – will be inadequate, making nuclear the first port of call.

One nuclear power plant is capable of producing about 1,200 megawatts (MW) of power – slightly above a quarter of the national installed capacity of 4,674MW.

The Deputy Director of Nuclear and Alternative Energy at the Ministry of Energy, Dr Robert Sogbadji, told the GRAPHIC BUSINESS that forecasts showed that the country will require base loads to meet its development aspirations.

“According to our gas master plan, our gas resources will be dwindling by 2027. We have exhausted our large hydros. Our mini hydros will only give us up to about 200MW to 300MW. Solar is intermittent supply and so it has its role to play.


“However, for industrilisation, we actually need base load generation such as nuclear, coal and gas base loads,” he said.

Although gas base loads look tenable, he said it was only “based on hope,” making it unreliable.

Speak to data

The Executive Director of the African Centre for Energy Policy (ACEP), Mr Benjamin Boakye, said it was not clear “what is informing nuclear at this point.”

Given that the Ministry of Energy plans to import “significant volumes of gas” in the coming years, Mr Boakye said the country needed to be sure that “it is not just adding on to generation.”

“We need to have a plan that speaks to data so that we are not just building cost into the electricity tariff because when you build plants and you do not have use for them, you ultimately have to pay for them,” he said.

Mr Boakye Agyarko — Ennergy Minister

Mr Boakye Agyarko — Ennergy Minister

Paris Accord

Despite agreeing to go nuclear since 1964, Ghana is yet to sign a deal with any of the vending countries to start commercial installation for energy generation. This is mainly due to lack of political will and the general piecemeal approaches to the energy challenges that face the country.

It appears this is now becoming history.

Beyond being a sustainable alternative, Dr Sogbadji, who is also the Coordinator of the Ghana Nuclear programme, said the country’s interest in nuclear energy was also bolstered by its environmentally-friendly and cost efficient nature.

As a result, he said the ministry was working hard to seal a good deal on nuclear power soon to help make energy sustainable.

He explained that although coal-fired electricity was also an option to the dwindling traditional energy sources, Ghana’s status as a signatory to the Paris Accord means that it could not use “a generational source that will pollute the environment.”

“So with our situation, we do not have a choice but to go nuclear and to also take advantage of our subregion by exporting,” he said.

The Paris Accord is a United Nations’ backed convention that bounds signatory countries to a global effort to reduce global warming to well below two degrees Celsius.

Unlike NPP, which are virtually emission-free, experts say coal-fired power plants emit large quantities of mercury, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and lead, which are dangerous to humans, other living things and the environment in general.

PDA with ROSATOM

Since the 1960s, Russia has been a key ally to Ghana’s nuclear power agenda.

It was the vending country that advised the Kwame Nkrumah administration on the country’s nuclear power programme, which was thwarted in 1966, when his government was overthrown.

Dr Sogbadji explained that the government was close to signing a project development agreement (PDA) with the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation (ROSATOM) for formal discussions on a deal to start.

He said although the signing of the PDA had faced some challenges, both sides were committed to ensuring that such nitty-gritties were ironed out to allow for the process to continue.

Similar discussions are also ongoing with China as part of a grand strategy by the government to weigh the financial and technical expertise of the two vendor countries before arriving at a best option.

It is expected that the country will sign a deal to develop two plants with a combined capacity to produce some 2,400MW.

Each plant costs between US$5 billion to US$8 billion and take an average of six years to complete.

It is understood that the nuclear project would include a power plant and a nuclear technology centre.

Dr Sogbadji said the center will come with a bigger research reactor to build human resource for the plant, produce radioisotopes for medical applications, material testing and research into other nuclear application technologies, among others.

Source: graphic online

Ghana goes nuclear; 2 Plants in six years

After more than five decades of back and forth movements on the production of energy from nuclear sources, Ghana is now inching closer to establishing two of its first nuclear power plants to augment national power supply from hydro, thermal and solar sources.

Prof. Benjamin T. B. Nyarko, Director General, Ghana Atomic Energy Commission

The Ministry of Energy and the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC), which are coordinating activities towards realising the vision, estimate that the first two plants could be operational in the next five to six years, with the capacity to produce some 2,400 megawatts (MW) of electricity.

Each nuclear power plant would cost between US$5 and US$6 billion to establish, Professor Benjamin J. B. Nyarko, the Director General (DG) of the GAEC, and Dr Robert Sogbadji, the Deputy Director in charge of Nuclear and Alternative Energy at the Ministry of Energy, told the Daily Graphic in separate interviews in Sochi in Russia yesterday.

Ghanaian delegation

Prof. Nyarko and Dr Sogbadji spoke to the Daily Graphic after the opening ceremony of this year’s ATOMEXPO International Forum in Sochi.

Started in 2008, the annual event is organised by the State Atomic Energy Corporation (ROSATOM) of Russia and brings together global experts and business executives with interest in nuclear and renewal energy.


On the theme: “Global partnerships – Joint success”, this year’s event is the 10th in the series, bringing together over 600 delegates from 68 countries.

Ghana’s delegation to the three-day conference is led by Mr William Owuraku, a Deputy Minister of Energy in charge of Power.

Prof. Nyarko and Dr Sogbadji explained that one important step in the country’s march towards producing energy from nuclear sources was the selection of a vendor country, which was also nearing completion.

For his part, Dr Sogbadji, who is also the Coordinator of the Ghana Nuclear Energy Programme, said after receiving dozens of proposals from nuclear vending countries around the world, the government had now zeroed in on China and Russia, as it continued the search for a suitable partner to help build the country’s first nuclear power plants.

He said a final decision on the vendor country was expected to be announced by the first quarter of next year, after which that country would then partner the government to start the construction of two plants by 2023.

The selected country is to, among other things, supply the nuclear reactors and other infrastructure needed to establish the two power plants.

Owner operator

The choice of a vendor country is an important milestone in Ghana’s march towards generating power from nuclear sources.

Despite commencing the process in the 1960s, the desire to produce energy from nuclear sources stalled over the years, largely due to lack of political commitment arising mainly from the negative publicity associated with nuclear energy around the world.

In recent years, however, significant progress has been made towards establishing the first plant.

Dr Sogbadji said the ministry was on the final lap of the first stage of its road map on nuclear energy production.

He explained that one key step in that lap was the choice of the vendor country, which had been ongoing for some time now.

He said although the country had received proposals from Japan, North and South Korea, among others, it had basically settled on Russia and China for strategic reasons.

“We are looking forward to the two countries to give us a comprehensive proposal, and then we can make a decision. For a newcomer country, you need a strategic partner to walk with and we do not want a project but a programme leading to a project,” he said.

“So the one who gives a good financial proposal and a good programme will be the one to choose. Also, these decisions are always more inter-governmental and so we the technical people and those on the ground may advise, but the sole decision will be based on a number of factors,” he added.

Owner operator

Explaining further, Prof. Nyarko said beyond the technical qualifications, the choice of a vendor country would be based on bilateral relationships and financing options.

“We are doing technology assessment and reactor type does not differ much. However, the government may decide on the financing option of each country or the bilateral relationship between the vendor country and Ghana,” he said.

Beyond choosing the vendor country, he said, one key step in the final lap of the first stage was the setting up or selection of an owner operator – a state enterprise that would own and operate the nuclear plants.

He said a memo was currently being prepared for the Cabinet to make the decision, after which the entity would then partner the vendor country to develop and operate the plant.

It is understood that the government is to choose between the Bui Power Authority (BPA) and the Volta River Authority (VRA) or set up an entirely new company to take up the role of owner operator.

Human resource

While awaiting the choice of the owner operator, Prof. Nyarko said, the GAEC had already developed the needed human expertise which would be offloaded to the owner operator after it had been established or chosen.

Ghana’s nuclear energy programme is being supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

A successful generation of energy from nuclear sources will make Ghana the second country on the continent, after South Africa, to generate energy from that source.

Ghana’s first attempt at getting the international buy-in to generate power from nuclear energy started in the 1960s but was shelved following the overthrow of the government of Dr Kwame Nkrumah in 1966.

The move was, however, renewed in 2006 when the Cabinet adopted a proposal for Ghana to go nuclear. That led to the resumption of discussions between the GAEC and the Ministry of Energy, on one side, and the IAEA, on the other, on how the country should proceed to produce and commercialise nuclear energy.

Nuclear currently accounts for 11 per cent of the global energy supply.

Author: Maxwell Akalaare Adombila | Graphic Online

Devt partners paid $20m to repatriate Ghana’s uranium to China

The Director General (DG) of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC), Prof. Benjamin J. B. Nyarko, has revealed that it cost the country more than $20 million to convert the Ghana Research Reactor-1 (GHARR-1) from highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low enriched uranium (LEU) before repatriating the spent fuel to China.

The HEU, within a TUK/145/C MNSR package, is loaded on a trailer during its journey (Image: IAEA – Sandor Miklos Tozser)

But instead of Ghana bearing that cost, Prof. Nyarko said the United States of America (USA) took up the cost, under the American government’s Global Threats Reduction Initiative with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in an effort to remove the use of weapon grade uranium from civilian use.

The conversion involved reducing the uranium content in the GHARR-1 from 90 per cent uranium 235, which is a weapon grade, to 13 per cent

Given that the conversion and repatriation process was a big relief to the country, the DG of the GAEC told the Graphic Business in Sochi in Russia that it was “untrue” that some sections of the general public intimated that the country had by passed other countries “to cheaply sell its highly enriched uranium to China”.

“It is the US government and the IAEA that paid for the cost of the repatriation. The whole process, including bringing in the low-enriched uranium to be loaded into the reactor and everything, was a little above $20 million,” he said at Sochi, where he is attending the 2018 ATOMEXPO.

He explained that the repatriation was done last year, bringing to an end a process that started in 2005 to help convert Ghana’s research reactor which was operated for more than 20 years with enriched uranium 235 to below 20 per cent.


Following the conversion, the GHARR-1 is now used for research and education purposes.

Provide answers

In September last year, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo announced at the General Assembly of the United Nations that Ghana, through its commitment to international peace, had returned its highly enriched uranium reactor to China.

“Africa and indeed, Ghana, remain committed to remaining a nuclear weapons-free continent. Three weeks ago, highly enriched uranium was flown out of Ghana back to China, signalling the end of the removal of all such material from the country,” he said at the time.

The announcement, however, generated discussion among a section of the public, with the Minority in Parliament demanding that the President explain why he took such a decision.

While describing such concerns as misplaced, Prof. Nyarko, who is also a Professor of Applied Nuclear Physics at the School of Nuclear and Allied Science (SNAS) at the University of Ghana, Legon, said those comments were unfortunate and a worry to the state.

“Sometimes when some of us hear these kinds of things, we start to worry because it is untrue and it made people ridicule us.

“If I have somebody who will take the core (the spent fuel) for fuel, I will thank my God because it is radioactive and dangerous. So if it was easy to do, we could have just gone somewhere, dig a hole and bury the spent fuel and take the $20 million that the Americans and the IAEA spent into something else,” he said.

“We have to pay for it; even with the storage in China, Americans have to pay for it. So if somebody is saying that you are selling spent fuel, then it is unfortunate because who will buy your waste?” he asked.

He said the country did well by including a spent fuel return clause in the contract with China in 1992, allowing the repatriation of the spent fuel to China.

“Otherwise, every spent fuel should be managed by the host country, which would have been Ghana, and storage of spent fuel is very expensive.

“If somebody says that we have sold the core, that is not true; it is not fresh uranium that you can sell,” he stressed.

Leading example

The National Nuclear Research Institute (NNRI), a division of the GAEC received the GHARR-1 from China in 1994 to be used for research purposes.

However, with 90 per cent enriched uranium, it was feared that the device could be diverted into non-peaceful activities.

As a result, the IAEA partnered the GAEC to form a collaborative research project and later a working group to help convert the uranium content.

Prof. Nyarko said the conclusion of the process in 2017 made Ghana the first country outside China to successfully convert Miniature Neutron Source Reactor (MNSR) to LEU.

“It is one of the successes because we have taken the lead,” he said.

He added that the conversion was done in such a way that it would not affect the reactor safety and operation.

 

Author: Maxwell Akalaare Adombila | Graphic Online