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2020: When Rwanda Prepared The Grounds For Its Nuclear Ambition

BY JULIUS BIZIMUNGU | THE NEW TIMES

The coronavirus pandemic gripped the world and upended economies, both in poor and rich countries alike. But 2020 won’t completely be remembered as a lost year.

It is a year in which Rwanda laid the foundation to drive its nuclear ambitions.

The country seeks to leverage nuclear science and technology to promote economic growth and transformation mainly because nuclear is seen as a key enabler to propelling certain industries such as energy, health, security, and others.

This year, the government passed a long list of frameworks that will enable the country to build the foundation for its nuclear aspirations.

While Rwanda’s journey to tap the nuclear industry started around 2011 when the country became a full member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), this year marked remarkable progress in terms of laying the foundation.

This year, the parliament voted the law approving the ratification of the agreement between Rwanda and Russia, on cooperation in the construction of the Centre of Nuclear Science and Technology on the territory of Rwanda.

The law was voted for by 76 members of parliament out of 78 who were present at the plenary. Two of them, both members of the Green Party, rejected it.

In October, the cabinet approved the draft law approving the accession of Rwanda to the convention on assistance in the case of nuclear accident or radiological emergency.

The convention is a multilateral treaty of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of which Rwanda is a member state.

Bound by the 1986 treaty which followed the worst nuclear disaster in history, parties agree to provide assistance to one another in the case of a nuclear accident.

To date, 122 states have ratified or acceded to the convention.

Yves Hategekimana, a Rwandan researcher at Aerospace Information Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Sciences believes with the rising population, the world requires alternative sources of energy to meet the needs of the future.

“Using nuclear we can meet our energy targets, which will translate into more job creation because, without energy, a country can’t achieve industrialisation,” he said.

He also argued that the application of nuclear science and technology could boost Rwanda’s space capabilities. That is because nuclear energy is used in batteries that power robotic spacecraft and satellites during space navigation.

A step closer

In October, Rwanda took a step closer to realising its peaceful nuclear energy ambitions after a cabinet meeting endorsed a piece of draft legislation establishing an oversight authority for the technologies.

The meeting approved the presidential order establishing Rwanda Atomic Energy Board (RAEB).

The proposed body, one of the first public agencies to be established through a presidential order after parliament earlier this year backed a government request to that effect, will, among others, coordinate research and development of nuclear energy activities in the country.

Rwanda Atomic Energy Board will “monitor and coordinate safety and security and support nuclear energy applications for sustainable social-economic development aligned with the National Strategy for Transformation and Vision 2050,” according to a government document explaining its mandate.

RAEB will also coordinate the implementation of the Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology project, which will develop integrated nuclear energy solutions for advancement of key economic sectors.

The body is expected to play a significant role in accelerating nuclear development in the key sectors of agriculture, health, electricity generation, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, industry, environment, geology and mining.

Priorities

Following the approval of the body, the Minister of Infrastructure Claver Gatete said the government was committed to leveraging nuclear science and technology to drive development needs, especially around energy, health, agriculture, and mining.

He argued then that any country on the development path globally uses elements that consist of nuclear technology, from scanners on doorways to radiology equipment in hospitals.

To be able to advance in science and technology which is the country’s vision, he said that there is no way “we can ignore the potential nuclear industry presents to us.”

Rwanda has an ambitious plan to leverage nuclear science and technology to drive development, and Gatete believes it is critical for the country to explore possibilities the industry offers.

Gatete said during a press conference in Kigali at the time that the country wanted to use nuclear technology for energy extraction, medical purposes, and agriculture, among other sectors.

“As people develop, the demand for electricity increases. Much of our power is extracted from hydro and our hydropower sources are drying up,” he noted during a presser.

The minister highlighted that the country has been relying solely on Mukungwa, Ntaruka, and Nyabarongo, as the source of its predominantly used hydropower, but those sources are reaching their last phase of extraction.

“The remaining option is Lake Kivu, which we share with the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have Rusizi 1, 2, and 3 which will generate 200 megawatts, before extracting the fourth last phase of hydropower,” he noted.

The other source of power will be the methane gas, but Gatete says that still there is a limit of extraction the country cannot exceed, which is 300 megawatts of methane power.

“We are already at 26 megawatts of Kivu Watt, which will be supported by an additional 56 megawatts of Shema plant. We shall probably add 50 more megawatts,” he explained.

Other applications

Beyond that, there would be no more other large sources of energy except tiny sources like solar energy, and that poses a challenge for a country whose industries are growing very fast.

“In the future, the demand for electricity will be much more than what we currently have. This, therefore, means we need nuclear energy,” Gatete said.

The country is looking to explore the application of nuclear technology to boost agricultural productivity, particularly through improved soil water nutrients and pest management, and improve livestock productivity through breeding, artificial insemination, and disease control.

In the healthcare sector, the minister mentioned there are many medical equipment in hospitals across the country that use nuclear technology.

“How then can we fail to invest in nuclear science to produce our own equipment using that same technology?”

The country has a target to focus on promoting medical tourism through luring manufacturers of equipment that use nuclear technology as opposed to always importing them.

“We realized to achieve all that we needed a specialized institution that studies and oversees our priorities. This is why we set up the Rwanda Atomic Energy Agency, which is also in line with international standards,” he noted.

In a span of less than three years (2018-2020), the government has pursued a number of actions that lay foundation for the country’s use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

Last year, the country invited industry experts to train locals in legal and regulatory environments, as well as sent a team of Rwandans to Russia to pursue everything from nuclear physics, medicine, to nuclear chemistry, and the economics of those industries.

So far, a team of 50 Rwandans is in Russia to pursue nuclear studies.

The same year, Rwanda signed a partnership agreement with Russia for the establishment of a Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology in the country, which will comprise research reactors, lab complexes, and centres for nuclear medicine.

SOURCE: THE NEW TIMES

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