Last year, the government in Lusaka and the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom signed several agreements for developing nuclear technology in Zambia. The plan will see the two countries set up regulatory bodies and an atomic research centre in the capital, followed by the construction of Zambia’s first nuclear power plant.
Minister of Higher Education Nkandu Luo mentioned that the first Zambian nuclear power plant will be critical to ensuring sufficient supply of electricity to power the economy for decades. She said the government working with the Russian government and the International Atomic Energy Agency are partnering in the nuclear science programme.
The project also includes training Zambians in atomic science and engineering, spearheaded by Rosatom. “As part of the agreement with Zambia, Rosatom will offer a wide range of long-term and short-term training and educational programmes for personnel with various backgrounds and educational levels, which are crucial for the centre’s successful implementation and nuclear power plant operation,” said Viktor Polikarpov, Rosatom regional vice-president, of Central and Southern Africa.
“Since 2010, Rosatom has been running a global project to train staff for partner countries aimed at creating an integrated system for training qualified specialists for the nuclear power industry. We provide scholarships to foreign students to study, intern and/or participate in on-the-job training in Russia. The training that the students go through equips them with the sufficient skills and knowledge to operate nuclear plants or participate in and eventually take over atomic research in their home countries”.
The 40 Zambians chosen will be part of the first team of scientists, assisted by Russian experts, to work at first Zambian nuclear facilities. Mabvuto Banda, studying for bachelor’s degree at the nuclear power engineering and thermal physics department of the Russian Nuclear Research University MEPhI, says: “Zambia, along with many other countries in Africa, have in recent years suffered the harsh consequences of their overdependence on hydropower when much of the southern parts of the continent experienced unexpected droughts and erratic rainfall”.
He added: “The flaw in our country’s power generation strategy was made abundantly clear by the partial drought of the 2014/2015 rain season that caused water levels in our reservoirs to drop to record lows, leading to power rationing lasting for as long as 16 hours each day in some areas. We could have avoided this had we invested in sources of energy less reliant on weather patterns. However, it is gratifying to see that as a country, we have learned our lesson and are actively seeking new ways to generate electricity – nuclear energy being one of them.”
By comparison, nuclear energy is one of the most efficient forms of energy in use today according to Richard Vlahakis, another beneficiary of the Rosatom/Zambia scholarship programme.
He said: “One atom in a nuclear reaction produces approximately 10 million times more energy than burning one atom of a fossil fuel like diesel or coal. Unlike hydropower, wind and solar energy, nuclear reactors are not dependent on weather patterns making them the more reliable option in the long run”.
“Atomic energy also has a very low carbon footprint. Looking at Zambia’s rising demand for energy on its quest for accelerated growth, a source of energy as efficient, clean and reliable as this is vital to the country’s economic development.”
Machona Mbahwe, another nuclear power student, said: “I would like to see a situation where Zambia no longer has a power deficit. With nuclear technology, we could potentially see a time when every community, rural or urban, has access to affordable and reliable power supply. I certainly hope I can contribute to achieving this once I graduate.”
Mr. Polikarpov concluded: “These students are the future and soon it will be their job to use science and their specialized skills gained to improve their home country and the world at large. I hope that they will take advantage of this unique learning experience from Russia’s cutting-edge universities to acquire the skills necessary to lead their country forward.”
Russia has committed to further increase its cooperation with Zambia in the education sector by increasing scholarships for local students wanting to study abroad.
Published in Lusaka Times (Zambia) on 15 March 2018