What is the best energy mix to support Kenya’s efforts at creating jobs? This is an important question in light of recent media reports that the government could postpone its plans to build a nuclear power plant by nine more years to 2036.
According to a recent survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, seven million Kenyans are unemployed, and nine in every 10 unemployed Kenyans are 35 years and below.
Bearing this in mind, a reliable source of energy is critical to the development of Kenya’s manufacturing and job-creation.
Without access to energy, it will not be possible to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals established by the country’s economic blueprint, the Kenya Vision 2030, such as reducing poverty, improving public health and broadening the reach of education.
Although renewable energy sources are necessary to meet peak demand for electricity, the fact that they depend on weather conditions makes them insufficient to ensure baseload electricity supply. In this respect, therefore, nuclear energy is the most viable option. Unfortunately, the national conversation around nuclear power has been tainted with inaccuracies.
To be fair to our youths, anti-nuclear lobbyists and their “researchers” need to consider real world scenarios.
To determine an energy mix, various factors and objectives other than just the cost apply. They include: Security of supply, reduced cost of energy, job creation and localisation, minimal environmental impact, water conservation, diversified supply sources and energy efficiency.
Looking closely at these objectives it becomes clear that the cheapest model on paper may not be the most appropriate for the country. It is also clear to me that only nuclear energy ticks all the boxes for strategic objectives.
Kenya’s Nuclear Power Programme will foster a much-needed supplier development pipeline and encourage a wider development of artisanal skills such as coded welders, boilermakers, plant operators, electricians and pipe fitters, which are all skills currently lacking in the country.
Included is the development of high-level skills such as scientists, engineers and project managers — thus helping address the youth unemployment crisis and help create small-to-medium enterprises.
As international experience shows, the advantages of an NPP are most tangible at the local level.
For example, construction of Paks II NPP in Hungary represents an employment opportunity on a large scale.
According to preliminary calculations, about seven to 8,000 people will be working on the site. And all this before mentioning the immense multiplier effect that will be created through localisation requirements, which will ensure sustainable careers as well as develop new local high-tech enterprises.
The government needs to consider social development as a priority while defining the national energy mix and focus on strategic industries such as nuclear, to bolster a globally competitive position and address unemployment among the youth.