“Strong leadership in the nuclear sector is a recognized challenge since it is an indication of the government’s serious commitment to its programme to the public.”

David OtwomaExclusive interview with Dr. David Otwoma, Chairman, Eastern Africa Association for Radiation Protection, & Lecturer, School of Physical Sciences and Technology, Department of Physics and Space Science, Technical University of Kenya.  Dr Otwoma is also a member of the African Utility Week advisory board.

What are the challenges that Africa faces in establishing robust regulatory frameworks for nuclear generation?
Robust regulatory independence requires three things:

  • Structural independence: the establishment of a regulatory body with adequate regulatory powers and defined relationships with other government bodies and non-governmental bodies that assure no undue influence
  • Operational independence: giving the regulatory body adequate technical and financial resources
  • Cultural independence: establishing and fostering a strong, independent safety culture among agency and employees

As such, most regulatory bodies in Africa are not structurally independent, meaning their function and activities are directly influenced by other bodies or organizations such as governmental departments, especially parent ministries which fund and enable them recruit competent staff and establish other capacities necessary for regulatory work. Most regulatory bodies don’t have secure financial resources and therefore their scope of activities are undermined or limited unduly.

As a result, such regulatory bodies don’t have adequate human resource capacity and enough technical resources to carry out their activities. The issue of brain drain may arise due to a low level of standards for the work force which are a high and lucrative in foreign countries. Cultural independence is not well established, and it’s an involvement that mainly deals with unethical relations between parties as have been witnessed by other national regulatory bodies. These challenges can be overcome by exchanges and adoption of best practices emulated from countries that successfully run nuclear programmes.

What is important for State facilitation of an environment for the development of safe and affordable nuclear power?
State will continue encouraging strong public engagement on the importance of including nuclear energy in the current energy mix. This has been consistent since 2009 when the Least Cost Power Development Plan team has been arriving at the need to add nuclear in the energy mix after 2020 for the country’s future energy security. The State recognizes that without public consent, a country’s nuclear power program will incur major problems in terms of deadlines and project cost.

Strong leadership in the nuclear sector is a recognized challenge since it is an indication of the government’s serious commitment to its programme to the public. This can only be done through hiring technical experts through proper vetting and also committed leaders who have adequate past experience in the field of nuclear and are willing to adhere to international best practices obtained from countries already operating and building nuclear power plants.

What does a nuclear safety culture mean in practice for vendors and operators?
Safety has become the first priority following the Fukushima Daichi game changing accident. When Kenya will embark on Milestone 2 (as Milestone 1 as described by the International Atomic Energy Agency has just been completed) the identification of possible vendors and operators will have to take cognizance of their interaction with the nuclear regulator and the general public.

What steps has Kenya taken to become ready to harness nuclear energy?
After the establishment of the Nuclear Electricity Project, through Presidential Order, the Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board was established. It may take the role of a promoter and Nuclear Energy Programme Implementing Organization. This has resulted in the development of the national energy policy plan and including nuclear as one of the energy mix. Through agreements with nuclear power plants operating countries human resource capacity development is ongoing. Public participation and acceptance are ongoing in formulating regulations through Parliament.

Is Kenya on track to implement by 2022?
No, as we just completed Milestone 1 and embarking on activities of Milestone 2 and later Milestone3 will require more time. Both Milestone 2 and 3 will require not less than 10 years.

What excites you about this sector?

  • It is an enormous industry allowing specialization in safety, security and safeguards as concerns nuclear material;
  • that if properly implemented, it has the potential of growing Kenya’s economy through providing stable energy/electricity supply initially to Kenya and eventually contributing to the East Africa Power Pool;
  • contributing to the national industry development and other positive spin offs that will contribute to Vision 2030;
  • research and educational/training growth especially due to technology transfer.

What is your vision for this sector?
Becoming Africa’s example of a vigorous nuclear power programme.

Why did you decide to join the AUW Advisory Board?
To enable me meet peers in the energy sector, to learn new developments and keep abreast of forthcoming technologies.

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