Jamaica going nuclear?
Govt panel to investigate potential
Ross Sheil, Online Co-ordinator firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, September 26, 2008
The Jamaican government is establishing a panel to determine the feasibility of building small-scale nuclear power plants to help solve the energy crisis.
Making the announcement yesterday, Energy Minister Clive Mullings said that the new panel would be headed by veteran Jamaican scientist Professor Gerald Lalor, director general of the International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Sciences (ICENS) at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona. Other members of the five-person panel will be named shortly, said Mullings.
Speaking Wednesday at the opening ceremony for the Jamaica Institute of Engineers (JIE) Engineers' Week 2008 held at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston, the Minister said that he had been influenced by the example of the South African Government, which is developing pebble bed-type reactors and from whom he would be seeking technical co-operation.
Mulling said that the nuclear option was one of several being explored by Government but that it would not provide an immediate solution.
"I want us to look at the issue of alternatives not just in renewables. We have to look at our energy security beyond the next five, 10 to 20 years. I believe that we must look at the next 30 to 40 years," said Mullings. "We already have a slowpoke reactor at the UWI and it is now time for us to enhance the links that we already have."
The ICENS small-scale slowpoke reactor at UWI does not generate electricity but is used solely in environmental and health research to analyse the elemental structure of rocks, soil, sediments, air particulates, plant, animal and human tissue.
"Putting in a nuclear reactor, is not a simple piece of work; there are plenty of snags along the way not least persuading the public that it is not risky and with pebble beds it's hard to imagine a scenario where anything can go wrong," Lalor told Caribbean Business Report.
"There is no talk of designing a reactor, our talk is about buying a reactor so our responsibility would be to understand it and provide the necessary training."
ICENS has previously studied the feasibility of nuclear energy for Jamaica with pebble beds heading a list of 10 types of reactors under consideration, said Charles Grant chief reactor operator at the centre. They said that the technology has an inherent safety mechanism, which would shut down the reactor before an uncrontrolled reaction could occur - similar to that of their slowpoke reactor, which has reported no accidents during its 24 years of operation.
Pebble bed technology would provide for plants with a capacity of up to 150 megawatts, which would make them feasible for Jamaica, unlike traditionally larger plants, said Grant. He said that despite such a plant being more expensive to construct it would produce cheaper electricity than a fossil fuel equivalent.
"With today's crisis we've been looking at alternatives but we have to bear in mind that prices of these other fossil fuels might also go the same way as oil, so you have to keep in mind more than one solution. Renewable solutions are great but you have to look at baseload capacity which is what nuclear can provide - although renewables have to be an important part of that mix," he said.
Research work previously conducted by ICENS, including collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would help advance the introduction of nuclear energy to Jamaica, he added.
Jamaica remains 95 per cent dependent on imported oil for use as fuel in the electricity generation sector making the country vulnerable to unstable and rising prices on the world market.
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