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Why Akwa Ibom Rejected FG’s Nuclear Plant

Stakeholders in Akwa Ibom take a unanimous stand against plans by the Federal Government to cite a nuclear plant in the state, reports Iniobong Ekponta in Uyo reports

Determined to boost the capacity for electricity generation, water engineering and allied energy resources, the Federal Government had proposed two nuclear plants for Akwa Ibom and Kogi States. While such laudable project from the centre would have been a welcome development to a State heavily bereft of Federal presence, the donation got a cold shoulder from the government and people of the 27-year-old State. Aside the University of Maritime Studies (UMS) at Oron; the University of Uyo and its allied Teaching Hospital (UUTH), as well as the proposed Federal Polytechnic slated for Ukana in Essien Udim Local Government Area, the State excised from the old Cross River State on September 23, 1987, by the then Federal Government led by former Military ruler, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), the State has no other commanding power in the area of Federal infrastructure.

The Akwa Ibom nuclear plant was slated to be located in Itu Local Government Area to boost energy, water supply and agriculture, but stakeholders under the aegis of Akwa Ibom Elders Forum, stood to warn against what they described as the “Federal Government’s Greek gift”. According to the leader of the team, Senator Anietie Okon, though the State lacks Federal infrastructure, it would be totally out of order to accept the nuclear plant, citing fears of its disastrous consequences on the society.

Though the plant, according to Prof. Emmanuel Akpabio of the Department of Geography, University of Uyo (UNIUYO), has its technological values, he was quick to point out that the disadvantages of nuclear technology, especially in the developing countries far outweigh the advantages. “Nuclear power plant is actually good as a source of clean water and it has served many developed countries as additional source of power supply. “I think it serves the United States up to 21 percent much higher than about one percent from petroleum energy. Nuclear, no doubt, is clean, carbon-free, reliable, and has the prospect of large scale generation of huge amount of energy”, he noted.

However, Prof. Akpabio, a JSPS Fellow, DPRI, Kyoto University at Gokasho, Uji, Japan, was also paradoxically opposed to such facility for developing countries including Nigeria. According to him, “the actual and potential costs of nuclear energy seem far greater than the trumpeted benefits especially for developing countries”.

He identified lots of safety issues bothering on waste treatment and management as some of the booby traps in the technology that could ignite accident whose effects could span generations with huge cost implications. The potential danger inherent in the technology, Prof. Akpabio noted, could be fuelled by the effect of lightening that could strike the plant, forcing radiation level to rise with huge impact on the facility.

He recalled the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, noting that the impacts of the disaster were still being felt by even cities around the location of the plant till the present day. “The impacts of the Chernobyl power plant explosion in 1986 is still not fully contained till date; its effect has remain international; the entire city around Chernobyl is still deserted”, he noted. Besides, the University don pointed at similar accident in 2011 in Fukushima, Japan, and drew Nigeria’s attention to the fact that in spite of the fact that “those plants were built with the highest level of safety assurance of the Japanese technology”, the facility could not be completely insulated from accidents.

“Today, there is a huge campaign in across Japan to prevent government from re-starting those plants”, he disclosed. Germany, one of the industrialized and agriculturally- advanced countries of the world, the Professor said, was tinkering on reducing its nuclear plants preparatory to phasing such dangerous technology completely out of the country’s industrialization policy framework.

“How come Russian experts are trying to build some nuclear plants for Nigeria?, he queried, adding: “It would amount to unethical practice if these experts have not thoroughly educated the Nigerian government on the benefits and dangers of building nuclear power plants in the Nigerian context”. His fears, the Professor noted, stem from the areas of safety, security, noting that “our regulatory system, standards and institutions do not have up to 5 percent capacity to meet whatever emerging challenges of running a nuclear plant”, he warned.

“We do not have to think our recycled and anachronistic post-colonial\FEPA, as well as other related environmental laws, standards and managers have the capacity to flexibly and adaptively manage relevant standard of a nuclear energy type”, he added. In the event of accident, the UNIUYO don emphasized that the country lacks the needed resources, expertise and the staff strength to contain such emergencies, noting that the cost of containing such crises may be too enormous for Nigerian budgets to carry. He also spoke of fears that the facility if weaponized, could be sabotaged and weapon-related materials siphoned, with accompanying dangers if such radio-active materials fall into wrong hands. Also, he pointed out that the plant could pose grave dangers to public health, because, according to him, “our water management practices are highly informal and dangerously situated in the private domain without regulatory enforcement”.

“Imagine having to wake-up to the news of radiation leakages (if at all the system will inform you). Note that the entire region covering Akwa Ibom, South-South, Southeast remain one of the most densely concentrated in terms of human, aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in cities and countryside. “These ecosystems are not bounded entities, so no one should carry the illusion that any form of nuclear accident would be limited to Akwa Ibom”, he remarked.

The effects of the plant’s accident, according to him would linger for a very long time with grave implications to the environment, food resources, water and all facets of our national life and urged the Federal Government to heed the advise of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that now is not the right time for nuclear technology in Nigeria. Apparently alarmed by these postulations against floating such industry in Nigeria, the House of Assembly had immediately swung into action with a Bill to stop such ‘development’ plans for Akwa Ibom and Nigeria. At the House’s Plenary session, the House member for Onna State Constituency, who doubles as the Deputy Whip, Otuekong Nse Udofot Essien, tabled the matter through a motion seeking to stop the Federal Government plan to float the nuclear plant in the State.

According to the Deputy Whip, the plant had devastating impact in about 18 countries of the world, wondering why the Federal Government should close its eyes to these dangerous trends of nuclear disaster with precedents in other advanced economies. He argued that Nigeria lacks the capacity and the technical knowhow to effectively manage such a hitech facility. The Bill was eventually committed by the directive of the Speaker, Elder Aniekan Uko (Ibesikpo Asutan) to the Committee on Environment. Policy Alert (PA), a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) had also joined the fray, calling for the cancellation of the plan Federal Government nuclear project in Nigeria.

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