Rwanda has approved the establishment of a center for nuclear technology and science which will leverage the country to compete in latest technology innovations by 2050.
Parliament on Monday approved the establishment which will be witness Rwanda’s collaboration with the Russians in sharing nuclear technology expertise, after a deal was reached and signed at the first Russia-African Forum in Sochi, in 2019.
This follows Cabinet approval of the agreement with Russia to set up a nuclear plant by 2024 to advance the use of nuclear energy for “peaceful purposes,” however this argument didn’t go without a hit debate.
Tabling the deal MP Nyabyenda said the parliamentary ICT and education committee had scrutinized the Sochi agreement and wanted it approved as an opportunity for Rwanda using nuclear energy for peaceful and development aspects in education, agriculture, health and research.
Nyabenda explained that the center will create jobs for Rwandans but also shared skills since it will work with experienced Russians in nuclear science which Rwanda doesn’t have.
“Already the first batch of 50 Rwandans are doing masters in nuclear sciences and will return here to implement the project to improve agriculture research, food and medicine storage, including geological studies,” Nyabenda said.
MPs were concerned about the source of funding, nuclear waste management and how the potential nuclear explosions will be mitigated and how Rwandans will directly benefit.
Dr. Frank Habineza said that he is not convinced this is a deal Rwanda can take on looking at “its negative impacts that overweight the benefits.”
Habineza argued that the world has seen effects of nuclear energy, of which there are more negative than positive looking at Chernobyl incident and others globally and demanded accountability on waste management.
“Why do we spend money on something that will kill us and has waste effects? This is a bomb that can blow and kill us in millions and have lasting impact on community and neigbours. How are we going to account for this to the next generation?” Habineza said.
He implored that Rwanda should drop the deal since other European countries are de-nuclearizing while other African countries have not bought in the nuclear deals.
However, MP Nyabyenda explained that Rwanda has signed international agreements to cover feasibility studies of waste management, disposal and regulations on the sector with international atomic energy agency.
“Yes, few countries have nuclear in Africa but we as Rwanda are sovereign and can do what is beneficial to us without looking to others that is why we choose to buy in the project,” Nyabyenda said.
Adding that “Rwanda has a plan to do a feasibility study on how to monitor and implement the projects and its impact—in case of an accident,”
MP John Ruku-Rwabyoma interjected saying there is no need to be worried since nuclear has evolved in history.
“It’s like having a gas station near home. Today nuclear science has developed and improved and we should be excited about it and instead teach citizens of its purpose. But instead ask how many jobs for Rwandans in projections?” Rwabyoma said.
MP Pie Nizeyimana was not convinced saying Rwanda needs an evaluation of measurement for the benefits and impacts on country.
“As we asked the previous year, we want to know how the waste will be managed. After this evaluation, is when we can say its worthy it,” Nizeyimana asked.
After a one hour heated debate on whether the deal is worthy for Rwanda to take on looking at its benefits and future impacts on environment and lives, the minister of Infrastructure, Claver Gatate was compelled to explain.
Gatete said that first, Rwanda will build its nuclear knowledge and on top of the 50 Rwandans on masters studies, they are soon sending 20 more.
“First we will focus on knowledge, others like Uganda, Nigeria, and Egypt are already far if we don’t do it now. You cannot do science, health activities like pharmaceuticals, agriculture without nuclear,” Gatate said.
He added that “Rwanda is not taking chances and that is why we are using atomic agency using latest technology of waste management and the 10 megawatts of nuclear energy need will not be a big threat instead an advancement in competitive science.”