Pupils at St. Peter Claver Primary School in Kampala – Uganda. Experts have called upon government to incorporate nuclear energy in school curricular saying it will improve public appreciation of the technology
[Africa, October 27] – Leading experts have called for public education to help dispel fears and address misconceptions regarding nuclear energy in a forum organised by RePlanet Africa, a grassroots environmental movement dedicated to tackling climate change, food security and poverty through science and evidence-based advocacy.
Speaking in a webinar titled “Demystifying nuclear energy, perceptions, acceptance and its future,” the experts among them nuclear engineers, physicists and hydrologists called for a multi-faceted approach to public education, including public forums, educational campaigns, and incorporating nuclear energy into school curricula.
Cynthia Wacuka, a Kenyan hydrologist at the Regional Centre on Groundwater Resources says public education is key to understanding how nuclear energy works and its role in decarbonising economies and cooling the earth.
“Its about time we introduced nuclear programmes in our curriculum from primary to institutions of higher learning to help the African public appreciate nuclear energy and what it can do to cool the planet and address climate change as well as the latest advancements in safety measures and waste management,” Ms Wacuka said, adding that a well-informed public can speed up acceptance and hence faster adoption of nuclear power as a clean and reliable energy source.
The calls for public education come at a time several African countries among them Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and are building their own nuclear plants or actively seeking partnerships with the developed West to help set up Small Modular Reactors.
Nuclear power has long been a topic of polarizing discussion, with proponents highlighting its low carbon emissions and capacity to generate large amounts of energy, while critics express concerns over safety and waste disposal.
However, Mercy Nandutu, a Nuclear Engineer and Lecturer at Ontario Technical University in Canada, says recent advancements in technology and robust safety measures have significantly improved the safety of nuclear energy and the disposal and storage of nuclear waste.
She dispelled fears that nuclear power plants can explode like atomic bombs, saying the enrichment level of uranium in nuclear plants is too low and that nuclear reactors are designed with multiple layers to immediately shut down and terminate the nuclear chain reaction in case of any incidences.
Similarly, Ms Nandutu addressed fears that nuclear power plants release dangerous levels of radiation into the environment. “While nuclear plants emit some radiation, it’s negligible and typically well within safe limits,” she said, adding that evidence of healthy employees who have been working in nuclear facilities for years attests to the safety of nuclear plants.
On cost, she acknowledged that while the initial capital outlay covering both capacity building and infrastructure for nuclear plants is hefty, its cheaper in the long run. “The operating costs of nuclear energy are relatively low, especially considering its long lifespan [of up to 40 years] and the amount of energy it produces,” Ms Nandutu said.
Addressing queries on the suitability of nuclear energy on the environment, Ms Wacuka clarified that nuclear plants produce no carbon emissions, making it a low-carbon energy source. “Because nuclear plants do not burn fossil fuels to generate electricity, they do not emit greenhouse gases – which is a key factor in climate change mitigation,” she said.
While the nuclear enthusiasts were in agreement that Africa is ready to adopt nuclear energy, they called on African governments, academia and industry leaders to collaborate and invest in capacity building. “A country like Uganda has 22 nuclear engineers when it takes between 500 to 800 technical employees to run a small nuclear plant,” Ms Nandutu said.