Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa and is currently the world’s 12th largest oil producer, pumping 2.25 million barrels per day. Nigeria in 2012 was also the world’s fourth leading exporter of LNG.
According to the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration, “Nigeria has one of the lowest net electricity generation per capita rates in the world. Electricity generation falls short of demand, resulting in load shedding, blackouts, and a reliance on private generators. Nigeria is in the process of privatizing the state-owned Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) in hopes that it will lead to greater investment and increased power generation.”
On 24 March Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan at the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague said that Nigeria will develop a nuclear energy industry. Most Nigerians see nuclear power as a means providing electricity. He also told the NSS audience that Nigeria is committed to negotiations on a “multi-lateral, internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.”
While the Nigerian Nuclear Program was founded in 1976, Nigeria’s civilian nuclear energy aspirations began in 2007, when then-President Umaru Yar’Adua said the country planned to add nuclear power to the national grid by 2017.
Ironically, Nigeria has benefited from Japan’s March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster, and increased its LNG exports to Japan.
Nigeria already has a nuclear research reactor Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Kaduna state. The Nigeria Research Reactor-1 is used for training purposes and is powered by enriched uranium. NIRR-1, which was built by the Chinese, was commissioned in 2004 during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, though the government of President General Sani Abacha subsequently awarded the contract.
Nigeria’s first nuclear power plant is scheduled to come on stream in 2020 and generate about 1,200 megawatts, with NPPs projected to contribute at least 4,000 MW to the country’s total national electricity supply by 2030, which in the next sixteen years will effectively double Nigeria’s electrical output.
The road to a comprehensive Nigerian nuclear energy program may encounter both specialist shortages and salary funding issues. Nigeria currently has three nuclear energy research centers in the University of Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria and University of Port Harcourt. In February the three centers graduated a total of six nuclear engineers. In late March, nuclear scientists working for Nigeria’s Center for Energy Research and Development, Obafemi Awolowo University, the Center for Energy Research and Training and Ahmadu Bello University have threatened to picket the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC), if nothing is done to settle their back unpaid salaries.
The poor pay and shortage of highly qualified personnel have led Professors and workers to warn of imminent and unprecedented brain drain in the Nigeria Nuclear Sector and possible extinction of Nuclear Research in Nigerian universities, if the current downward trend is not quickly checked. At the recent “Strangulation of the Nigerian Nuclear Energy Programme by Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission and the need for serious and urgent intervention” press conference held in Abuja CERD Professor Eusibus Obiajunwa warned, “If the trend is not checked now, Nigeria will be lagging behind in the next few years in nuclear program. The few professionals we have in the sector will migrate to other countries where they are already looking for them.”
Last but not least, with the increasing activities of Islamic insurgents like Boko Haram and the vulnerability of the country’s uranium stock, Nigeria must increase its security against possible nuclear terrorism. In 2013 in neighboring Niger, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb suicide bombers attacked a uranium mine owned by the French nuclear company Areva, killing 26 people and injuring 30. AQIM is known to have ties to Boko Haram.
Nigerian journalist Wole Olaoye, who has been covering Nigeria’s nuclear aspirations for decades warned, “We have security problems in Nigeria right now. And I don’t want to think of a situation where we will manage the fallout of a nuclear leakage. With the level of incompetence with which we have treated our hydro-power stations, I don’t see us managing nuclear power competently and efficiently.”
Given the shambolic nature and massive corruption of Nigeria’s hydrocarbon sector, Olaoye’s concerns carry considerable weight.