investigation has revealed that the centre has violated the core of safety principles expected at the centre and thus, risk withdrawal of its license.
Investigations also revealed that most of these breaches would have been avoided had contracts awarded been fully implemented.
For instance, the management of the centre has failed in providing adequate security for the centre even as the country is going through a tumultuous time in security.
Also worrisome is the mismanagement of the Gamma Irradiation Facility, the non-existence of a waste management facility to properly dispose nuclear wastes and others abandoned within the centre.
The IAEA could not provide a report of Nigeria’s performance in nuclear safety upon inquiry by this reporter.
However, the regulatory body in an email response by its Press and Public Information Officer, Jeffrey Donovan, noted that the sole responsibility of decommissioning a nuclear centre lies with the national authorities responsible for nuclear safety and nuclear security, in this case, the Nigeria Nuclear Regulatory Agency, NNRA.
The response states, “The IAEA’s role is to assist its Member States in fulfilling their responsibilities on nuclear safety and nuclear security. The IAEA does this in a number of ways, including through its safety standards. In addition, upon the request of a Member State, the IAEA conducts peer-review missions to review Member State activities against IAEA safety standards in a number of areas, including the nuclear regulatory framework, operational safety, or nuclear security. At the end of these missions, the IAEA-led team typically issues a report to the host Government that includes recommendations and suggestions for improvements.”
The IAEA did not also state if it had recommended decommissioning to the country due to the poor state of the facility.
Who runs the NTC?
As evident in this investigation, one of the major problems which accounts for the sorry state of the centre is the dichotomy of management.
While the full budget of the centre goes to NAEC, the initiator, SHETSCO, shares in the burden of maintaining the centre, thus, the NTC stands hanging in terms of management. Mr. Mallam traced this problem to improper handover.
“The NTC was formerly under SHETSCO but when NAEC was activated, the Minister made a memo to the president on the transfer of some nuclear related establishments under the supervision of NAEC which President Obasanjo approved. The NTC was one of them. The staff in SHETSCO working at the NTC were supposed to automatically transfer to NAEC.
“However, the implementation of that decision has had some challenges because there were attempts to do a full handover by the Ministry of Science and Technology which was by then supervising the two agencies but there were some difficulties in fully implementing that decision. So, some parts of it remain under SHETSCO, the Gamma Irradiation Facility came under NAEC others like the power house, security, and others are been run by SHETSCO. So, that has created difficulty in having some synergy and we have a committee to solve that.”
He assured this reporter that the dichotomy would soon be a thing of the past.
“Under President Jonathan, a Presidential Technical Committee was set up chaired by the Head of Service to look at the management framework of the atomic energy sector completely in the country and submit a report,” Mr Mallam continued.
“Unfortunately, that committee worked and for whatever reason, the report has not been finalised. But we are working with the Present Head of Service to see how the report can be finalised. So, most of the issues as to the implementation of that decision were supposed to be addressed by the committee.”
More hardship for staff
Amidst the non-availability of tools to work with, staff of the centre have expressed their grievances over their redundancy.
Some of them who confided in this reporter said they come to work to do nothing daily as the machines are no longer working.
Bisi (not real name) said the situation was better when the centre was solely run by SHETSCO.
“It’s not only about salary but I also have to think about my career,” Ms. Bisi said.
“Even though my salary is being paid regularly but I’ve not been doing anything for years now. Nothing is working here and we can’t continue to keep quiet. We come here every day just to talk and while away time. Nothing is functioning here.”
Another staff, Emeka (not real name) said he was unhappy at being idle and urged the government to merge the nuclear centres into one entity.
“It’s better that the place is left to be managed by one entity. If there is any fault now, you will see that there will be shift of blame. So, let everything that happens here be on one person. We don’t want SHETSO, NAEC joint management again. We want just one. We want to work.”
But the situation is outside NAEC’s control, according to Mr. Mallam.
“If you’ve not been able to secure funds, irrespective of who is managing it, you will not be able to do anything,” he said.
“For instance, if a facility develops some fault and to fix that somebody gives you about 800 Euros bill, you have to plan that in the budget before you could get it repaired. But what we have challenged our staff to do is that there are some of those things they can work on themselves. So, it’s not a question of people go there and no work but the challenges of fund and we are working to get appropriate funding. With the support we are gradually getting from the government, we are likely going to solve some of those problems within the next one year.”
Speaking at the South-west Sensitization Programme on National Science, Technology and Innovation Roadmap, the Minister of Science & Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, said the Federal Government’s National Science, Technology and Innovation Roadmap will save the country about $11 billion in five years.
The federal government in August approved the 13-year National Science, Technology and Innovation Road Map starting from 2017 to 2030.
Mr. Onu said the roadmap would enhance the nation’s emerging post-crude oil economy, catalyse economic growth and boost competitiveness of the nation’s raw material endowment.
“This is the Road Map of all Road Maps. Other road maps have the life span of 3-5 years, but this road map of 13 years would outlive this present government and would also outlive my stay as the minister.
“If China with over one billion population could do it, Nigeria will. Our problem is not the population but to correct the mistakes our fathers made.
How well can we correct these mistakes? For experts in the field, the correction lies mainly with adequate funding of the sector.
“It is unfortunate that we keep talking about nuclear programme but the government is not spending on this,” Mr. Adesanmi Charles, a former DG of the nuclear centre said.
“Any programme that will gulp money, the government can propagate it but later turn their eye to it and nuclear technology is always expensive to run. They need to put more money. For example, nuclear technology can be used in power generation.
“We can ask our friends in other parts of the world to come and invest in nuclear technology but first, we must put our money down. It is business. We can get up to 5,000 megawatts from nuclear source in the next five years if we take deliberate steps. We can target.”
While experts continue to hope for better funding of the sector and the Minister continues to reel out the government’s plan, the centre lies abandoned by contractors and its own management.
This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.