Ghana's energy future: Is nuclear the answer?

Apr 04, 2007 02:00 AM

by Samuel Gyamfi

Energy is the most important entity which allows society to function. Its availability is prerequisite for the production of goods and their consumption. Because of this double function of energy, the amount needed at anytime and where it will come from must be known in advance.
Long term forecast in national energy demand and supply in all its forms is important issue to the government, the private sector, and all other planners and decision makers. However in deciding which energy option to choose is a complex issue with several competing potential sources.

The largest part of Ghana’s electricity is generated from hydro resources. The current energy crisis has showed that we can not continue to rely on hydropower generation. Since our GDP and population are projected to grow, so also should our electricity demand.
Therefore, in thinking about electricity demand and how to meet it, we can assume basic economic and population growth. We can also assume our current generation capacity as the base production. The gap between what we are able to produce and what will be required (in the future) for our economic and population growth should be a subject of discussion to avoid future electricity crises.

The choice of which resource option to embrace must be based on cost-benefit economic approach. There is a lot of talk about nuclear energy but I have some doubt whether nuclear is the best option for Ghana.
I heard experts on one radio station discuss radiation of nuclear energy and compare that to other radiation sources we are not aware of. All that is true but there are other questions that need to be answered. Nuclear power plant is the most expensive to build.

First of all we need to ask ourselves how much of Ghana’s GDP will be required to build say 1,000 or 500 MW nuclear power plant. The planning of nuclear power plant does not end at electricity generation stage. The cost of decommissioning may even be higher than the cost of construction. Again, the radioactive waste will have to be stored in perpetuity (and ship through our waters under heavy security guard at a very high cost).
There are other environmental costs which can be calculated and monetized. An example will be a reduction in value of the land at a certain radius from where the plant will be constructed. There are economic methods for calculating (in monetary value) all the ecological impact that can result from nuclear power plant.

For the same amount of money, we could have far more electricity generation capacity with “infinitely” greater security. One way not to overlook the adverse impact of any electricity generation source is to use Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). With LCA, we can assess all the benefits against the potential impacts or cost of any electricity generation resources. We should all get back to the table and discuss the best way forward.
I believe that, our electricity for the future should have different generation mix. One of the potential and probably the best source is natural gas. I always ask myself why we were not able to notice the benefit we could have had from our neighbour Nigeria until recently. It is been proven that geographic location has very good relation to economic development.

There is therefore the need to explore all the economic advantages of our geographical location. Nigeria has a lot of natural gas reserves which can be imported (even by road) at lesser cost, compared to other fuel sources. When we talk about climate change, natural gas emits less CO2 compared to other fossil fuels. It also has long term range of availability.
There is the need to make good comparative analysis before making any decision on our energy future because “well done is the contrary of well”. We owe the future generation a great deal of responsibility.

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