Opinion: Ghana and the nuclear option

ghana_nuclear_2Large-scale gas and oil discoveries have pushed nuclear power down the political agenda in Ghana. Despite its large oil and gas reserves, Ghana still requires a long-lasting alternative to help it meet its energy needs, writes Emmanuel Yartey

The projection by the Ghanaian government to increase power supply by 2015, because of the discovery of huge deposits of natural gas at the Jubilee Offshore Oil Field is welcome news, but it must also be remembered that the gas resource is finite and therefore a better alternative is required to act as a long-lasting complement; this is where nuclear power enters the equation.

Ghana’s vice president, John Dramani Mahama, announced recently that the country would increase power generation to ensure reliable power supply and become a net exporter of power in the West Africa sub-region by 2015.

Solar and biomass were other sources of energy mentioned by the vice president to be explored, but he was silent on nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy originates from the splitting of uranium atoms in a process called fission. At the power plant, the fission process is used to generate heat for producing steam, which is used by a turbine to generate electricity.

Ghana’s electricity consumption has been growing at 10-15 per cent per annum for the last two decades and it has been projected that the average demand growth over the next decade will be about 6 per cent per year.

According to energy experts, electricity accounts for about 11 per cent of the nation’s final energy consumption and, with a customer base of approximately 1 to 4 million, it has been estimated that 45-47 per cent of Ghanaians, including 15-17 per cent of the rural population, have access to grid electricity with a per capita electricity consumption of 358 kWh.

All regional capitals have been connected to the grid. Electricity usage in the rural areas is estimated to be higher in the coastal (27 per cent) and forest (19 per cent) ecological zones than in the savannah (4.3 per cent) areas of the country.

To diversify the power sector away from a complete reliance on hydroelectric power towards thermal fuel sources is a positive idea for the government of Ghana to resolve.

The hydroelectric power plants in the Eastern Region at Akosombo and Kpong, which over the years have been the main source of power generation in the country, are prone to seasonal variations in water levels, creating periods of severe electricity crisis such as the experiences the country went through in 1983, 1993, and 2006-07.

According to the experts, these trying moments enabled the nation’s major power house, Volta River Authority (VRA), to build a number of diesel- and crude oil-fired thermal plants in 1997 to meet peak power demand and to provide backup in the event of occasional shortfalls in hydroelectric power.

But thermal power generation has proven to be expensive in Ghana with the high price of crude oil on the world markets. The idea that the under-construction Ghana Gas Plant in Takoradi in the Western Region will help increase the electricity supply is laudable, but policymakers must complement the gas factor with nuclear power, which is sustainable.

Alain Charles Publishing, University House, 11-13 Lower Grosvenor Place, London, SW1W 0EX, UK
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