Saturday, 28 May 2016

Why Ghana Must Not Be Rushed Into Building A Nuclear Power Plant

Mr. Kwesi Pratt, the managing editor of the The Insight newspaper, is unquestionably one of the most influential journalists in Ghana today.

Indeed, both Kwesi Pratt and Mr. Abdul Malik Kweku Baako, the editor-in-chief of The Crusading Guide newspaper, are considered national  heroes who fought to end tyranny in Ghana, by many Ghanaians (myself included).

I have the highest regard for both gentlemen.They were in the trenches with courageous and patriotic individuals such as: the late Tommy Thompson; the late professors P. A. V. Ansah and Adu Boahen; as well as Kabral Blay-Amihere; amongst other brave men and women, in the fight to end the culture of silence during the period that the ruthless military dictatorship that overthrew the administration of the late President Hilla Limman, ruled Ghana with an iron-fist.

And they are still defending individual liberty and constitutional rule in the Ghana of today. So, the fact that both Pratt and Baako love Mother Ghana passionately, is beyond doubt.

That is why it came as a bit of a surprise to some of us, when it was reported that Mr. Pratt had recently stated that he supports the plan to build a nuclear power plant in Ghana - no doubt because the relatively low-priced electricity it will produce will benefit ordinary Ghanaians and businesses alike.

Unlike some of those who have a personal interest in such a venture, because of the financial rewards from lobbying for a nuclear power project in Ghana, Mr Pratt no doubt believes it will be in the long-term interest of our nation, to build one here. His advocacy is thus for patriotic reasons only.

However, in my humble view, we must thank Providence that Nkrumah did not fully implement his plans for a nuclear power sector in Ghana before he was overthrown. The question is: Have Mr. Pratt and Co been to the area which President Nkrumah's administration designated as a security zone for Ghana's nuclear power plant at Kwabenya recently?

The encroachment there sums up the lawlessness that replaced Nkrumah's disciplined and methodical approach to nation-building. The painful truth, is that nuclear waste storage facilities will never be safe and secure in this lawless and corrupt nation of ours. Ever.

The reason why many of those who oppose nuclear power plants do so, is mainly  because of the apocalyptic impact of accidents at nuclear power plants - such as those that occured at Three Mile Island in the U.S., the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, when today's Ukraine was a republic in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and the one at Japan's Fukushima Da Ichi  nuclear power plant.

Then there is also the fact that radioactive waste from nuclear power plants remain dangerous for thousands of years. And, apart from ensuring that storage facilities neither fracture nor leak,  there is also the need for storage sites to be secured well-enough, and round-the-clock, to prevent terrorists from stealing radioactive waste material for a "dirty bomb."

The question is: How can a society in which corruption is endemic,  and which is unable to handle even the relatively simple challenge of efficiently and safely disposing of household and industrial waste, on a daily basis, be trusted to dispose of and store nuclear waste safely and securely, for thousands of years?

Mr. Pratt and those who support the building of nuclear power plants as the panacea for our twin challenges of grappling with a high electricity tariff regime, and having to cope with a  hard-to-bridge power generating deficit, should not let a short-term difficulty cloud their judgement, in this matter.

Perhaps instead of allowing ourselves to sleepwalk into handing over a state power distribution monopoly, to a foreign entity for as long as 25-30 years, we might get much more bearable electricity prices if all the electricity sub-stations were auctioned off to private Ghanaian entities to distribute electricity from.

Agreements could be signed with such Ghanaian companies to run them for 5-10  years each. That could give the current employees of the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG), the opportunity to bid to run their own businesses using the considerable experience and expertise they have acquired over the years, to run the sub-stations they win bids for efficiently and profitably.

Theft of electricity, which is an additional burden unfairly imposed on honest and law-abiding electricity consumers across Ghana, will immediately drop to insignificant levels if private companies run the ECG's sub-stations, as those who run them will make sure that a robust and reliable system preventing revenue leakages from freeloading-thieves, would be in place - with the resulting savings passed on to consumers in a lower tariff regime.

There is the shining example, of the only privately-owned power distributor in Ghana, Enclave Power Limited, a subsidiary of the Ghanaian conglomerate, LMI Holdings, to inspire and guide us: it bills and collects payments for supplied electricity from all its customers.

There are also U.S. companies such as GE, Stem, Green Charge Networks and the UK company, Highview Power Storage, which have cutting-edge energy storage technologies, which enable  small, medium and large companies to cut down on their electricity usage from national power grids.

Should the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI), not be talking to the CEOs of such companies, and asking them to enter the Ghanaian market and partner Ghanaian entrepreneurs, to provide consultancy services aimed at assisting Ghanaian manufacturing companies to manage their electricity usage more efficiently?

And it will do all of us some good, if all the power generating companies in Ghana talked to the innovative UK company, Highview Power Storage, to enable them increase their peak-hours  generating-capacity using that dynamic UK company's unique liquified air storage technology.

Above all, with the advances made in energy storage technologies, focusing on renewables makes perfect sense for Ghana, in the short to medium term.

There have also been tremendous advances in wind turbine, solar panel and thermal solar energy technologies. So, today, 100% renewable electricity usage, is actually feasable for many businesses.

Surely, if the whole of Portugal could run solely on energy generated from renewable sources (hydro, wind and solar) for 107 straight hours, earlier this month, we should aim to be in a position to do so too, in the not too distant future? Will that not lead to much lower electricity tariffs?

If it is the prospect of limitless cheap energy that attracts them to nuclear power plants, for the information of Mr. Pratt and Co, a private company in Southern California, Tri Alpha Energy, has just raised U.S.$500 million in its quest to build a non-radioactive nuclear fusion power plant.

Theoretically, fusion power plants are a far safer source of limitless cheap electricity - with none of the challenges posed by the need for safe and secure storage of radioactive fissionable waste material from nuclear power plants.The private sector will deliver a working fusion power plant within the next 15 years.

And we must not forget that there is not a single nuclear plant currently operating anywhere in the world, that did not overshoot its budget by billions of dollars, and was not delivered many years after its scheduled delivery date. Food for thought for Mr. Pratt and Co?

And we are referring to advanced technological societies with well-functioning systems - not countries like Ghana with Byzantine and corrupt systems that leak torrents of cash like giant sieves: and in which design specifications for large infrastructure projects are routinely varied to enable contractors  pay kickbacks to highly-placed officials and politicians, and still make  handsome profits.

With respect, I humbly suggest that Mr. Pratt, and all those who want Ghana to build a nuclear power plant, should  read Richard Martin's online MIT Technology Review article entiltled: "Peek inside Tri Alpha Energy, a company pursuing the ideal power source" - and understand why Ghana should not  be rushed into building a nuclear power plant any time soon.

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