Tanzania turns to nuclear power

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[DODOMA] Tanzania is to start using nuclear power, after the country’s parliament enacted a law last week permitting the use of uranium to produce energy. The move could make Tanzania the first country in East and Central Africa to use nuclear technology to generate electricity.

Many government representatives have welcomed the proposed shift to nuclear power, saying it will boost economic development and allow an increase in the proportion of ‘clean’ energy. But there is public concern that the move could cause friction if it is taken without the support of the international community.

Presenting the Atomic Energy Bill to the Tanzanian parliament, the deputy minister for higher education, science and technology, Zabein Muhita, said that nuclear technology would ensure access to reliable and sustainable power, an important stepping stone towards development.

The 1985 National Policy on Science and Technology (amended in 1995) identifies several potential sources of energy, including atomic power. Although Tanzania is rich in uranium deposits, to date the country has concentrated on hydroelectric power, coal and gas. "These sources are not sustainable and have a great negative impact on the environment," Muhita said.

The new law has clear provisions for the safe use of uranium, including the establishment of a Central Radioactive Waste Management Facility, which will be a "national centre for the collection, characterisation, conditioning, segregation and generally the safe management of radioactive wastes". A national Atomic Energy Commission is also being set up.

The law clearly indicates that nuclear power is only permitted for the production of electricity — and not for military purposes. But some members of the public are concerned that building nuclear plants without the support of the international community could trigger unnecessary suspicion.

One Dodoma resident commented: "We are [one of the] poorest countries in the world. If [the government] thinks that nuclear can pull us out of poverty, let us thank God. But if that will lead us to where Iraq is now, our government should think twice about it."

The government insists that the law has been enacted specifically in order to ensure the safe use of nuclear technology, which it hopes to reinforce by seeking international funding and technical advice. Additionally, any nuclear plants will be kept under state control.

The opposition spokesman, Benedicto Mutungilehi, backed the new law, saying that many developed countries use nuclear technology to produce power for home and industrial consumption. Western Europe generates about a third of its electricity from nuclear power, for example.

The chairperson of the Environment and Natural Resources Parliamentary Committee, Anne Makinda, agreed that atomic energy is not only ‘environmentally friendly’, but is also relatively cheap, at US$2,000 per kilowatt. Makinda also pointed out that less than 10 per cent of Tanzania’s population currently has access to electricity, and that nuclear power could play an important role in expanding this reach.

Source: SciDev.Net