Despite government assurances, opposition lawmakers in Parliament yesterday March 14 put up fierce resistance to plans for a nuclear plant – some saying Rwanda is “too small” for such a plant.
Parliament was convening for the final session to vote on a nuclear energy bill brought by Infrastructure Minister Claver Gatete last year.
A parliamentary committee assigned to review the bill, recommended in the session yesterday – but with some reservations, that it was OK to put the bill to the House for a vote.
Gatete’s bill also seeks to put Rwanda in compliance with the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage.
A nuclear energy disaster affects not only the country in which it is located but the surrounding states as well. Hence, national laws have been required to comply with the Vienna Convention which the international community believed, is needed to defend the cross-border impact of such disasters.
But even before the vote could be held, the parliamentary team of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda including its leader Dr Frank Habineza, had plenty of questions for Minister Gatete and the committee which looked at the bill.
Where is the budget for a nuclear plant? Where is the environment impact assessment? Where will it be located on the territory of Rwanda anyway? Do we even have the skilled people needed to start nuclear energy development?
Dr Habineza, citing the example of the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan in March 2011 that followed a massive Tsunami, said Rwanda cannot afford to go nuclear.
There is an exclusion zone of 20km – meaning no people and plant life can thrive due to deadly radiation.
In another disaster, the Chernobyl one of 1986 in Ukraine, was much worse. Since then, no life can survive in area stretching 30 kilometers in all directions from the blast zone.
Comparing to Rwanda, it means for example if there was an explosion at a plant in Kigali, the entire city plus Kamonyi district, Rwamagana and Shyorongi sector to the north, would have to be evacuated for good.
“First of all the area size of Rwanda is too small in case of a nuclear accident since the whole population could be affected,” said Habineza, adding, “It will cost over $365 billion to deal with the effects of Fukushima and Rwanda cannot manage to afford that kind of Budget.”
His party colleague, MP Jean Claude Ntezimana said Rwanda’s grid was obsolete for nuclear energy.
“[Nuclear plants] are also, by far, the most expensive form of electricity generation except for perhaps just shoving piles of money into a furnace, and they consume and contaminate very large amounts of water for cooling,” Ntezimana Said.
Minister Gatete said government was aware of all the risks, but that nuclear energy would provide a lot of power for years.
On where such a plant would be located, Gatete said Rwanda has Lake Kivu that has abundant water, and many other lakes dotted around the country.
In December last year, Rwanda signed a nuclear deal with Russia. The document establishes legal basis for interaction between the two countries in a wide range of areas, including elaboration of the project for the construction of a Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology and of a Nuclear Power Plant in Rwanda.
Aleksey Likhachev, director general of Russia’s ROSATOM, the world’s biggest nuclear energy firm, signed the agreement on behalf of Russia and Gatete signed on behalf of Rwanda.
According to the parliamentary committee which scrutinized the bill brought by government, there are currently 200 Rwandans undertaking nuclear energy studies in Russia and other places.
Others have been going for the studies since 2013 and are waiting for nuclear projects to start.
“It is a safe form of technology,” said Gatete in parliament.
When the House Speaker Mukabalisa Donatille finally put the bill to a vote, only the two Green Party lawmakers voted against.