Investing in education will spur Africa’s nuclear industry – experts.
Rwanda, like other newcomers into the field of nuclear science and technology, should invest in providing the right skills and expertise to people to prepare for the future, experts and academics say.
This week, young African engineering students and science journalists are in Russia exploring the possibilities that Africa can leverage to promote nuclear fields.
The group visited different cities mostly learning about the work of nuclear science and technology and how Russia has come to be a world power in this field.
The students, who were facilitated by Rosatom, a Russian state atomic company, have so far visited Moscow, Tomsk, and Obnsnki.
Rosatom entered a deal with Rwanda to construct a Center of Nuclear Science and Technologies in the country.
The deal will enable the country to slowly join the industry, starting with carrying out scientific research and practical application of nuclear technologies, allowing production of radioisotopes for wider use in agriculture and other areas.
The centre will also have a research water-cooled reactor with up to 10 MW capacity, Rosatom said early this year.
The partnership would also allow in the future to supply Rwanda with small modular reactors for power generation.
But for that to happen, Rwanda will need to develop a highly-skilled workforce who will promote the industry.
Paul Atta Amoah, a PhD scholar at the Tomsk Polytechnic University believes manpower development for nuclear energy is very critical.
“Operating nuclear energy facilities in the future require highly qualified specialists,” he told The New Times in Tomsk in Siberia.
Nuclear energy is one of the top applications of nuclear technology with countries like Russia, The United States of America, and France leading in the field.
Most African countries have needs that could be met by nuclear energy.
According to the International Energy Agency, 57 per cent of Africa’s population does not have easy access to electricity and those who have it must deal with frequent power outages.
Yet, only South Africa in the continent currently has a nuclear power plant. The country has a nuclear power station, about 30 kilometres north of Cape Town.
However, most African countries are coming on board. Ghana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Uganda are some of those countries that have started exploring the space.
Experts think Africa is right to explore because the continent holds a huge amount of natural minerals such as uranium and plutonium which are crucial for the nuclear industry.
“A lot of these countries are seriously exploring nuclear technologies, but for Africa to fully tap into this area, skilled workforce will be a prerequisite,” Amoah said.
He’s one of the African research scientists studying at different Russian universities, specifically in nuclear-related fields.
Rosatom works with 18 universities that offer nuclear-related study opportunities. Students are able to pursue everything fr om nuclear medicine, physics, and others.
According to Irina Sarkisyan, the manager of the International Programmes Centre, there are about 150,000 international students enrolled in Rosatom universities, half of which are African students.
“They may not necessarily work in their countries probably because there is not a lot of nuclear projects running, but they will be needed in the future,” she said, responding to wh ere these students will work after their studies.
Students at the Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU) and the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute) are already conducting nuclear research in everything from medicine, mineral and space exploration, oil and gas extraction, and airport operations, among others.
Prepare the future
Liliya Kiryanova, the Vice-Rector for External Affairs at TPU, one of the oldest nuclear training institutes in Russia, the school prepares the scholars to play meaningful roles in various fields.
“The school trains students who are expected to apply scientific knowledge to solve some of the complex problems,” she said.
Amon Chileshe, an African scholar at this University hopes to go back in his home country Zambia to train more Zambians who would, in turn, drive the industry in the future.
“In Zambia, I see a lot of possibilities that will come with nuclear technology. But we shall need people who are well skilled and knowledgeable for us to tap into these possibilities,” he said.
“My hope is to go back and share my knowledge and skills with other Zambians who will take Zambia into this field,” he added.
Institutes like TPU have produced people who have driven Russia’s nuclear industry. Graduates here have invented one of the first Russian aircraft, nuclear-powered reactors, and Luna 24 (a rover that landed on the moon), just to mention a few.
A tour at some of the nuclear centres in Russia gives a sneak peek into the future. Researchers are using nuclear technology to push the boundaries of the industry.
At Tomsk Radiological Canyon, doctors are using nuclear technology to test diagnostic scans for cancer, heart and brain diseases.
According to IEA, nuclear energy today provides over a third of the world’s low-carbon electricity.
But for nuclear energy to continue to play its role in sustainable global energy supply, both technical and institutional innovations are needed.