A Legislation is making its way through the Council of Ministers (CoM) that would regulate the use of nuclear energy in Ethiopia.
It would also re-establish the existing Ethiopian Radiation Protection Authority as the Ethiopia Radiation & Nuclear Protection Authority.
The regulation follows the law Radiation and Nuclear Protection Proclamation issued in August 2018. The law, the first of its kind in Ethiopia, that addressed nuclear use gave the authority the mandate to regulate all activities related to nuclear and radioactive materials.
Though, the Authority had the legal capacity, it lacked the institutional framework to carry such activities, said Sirur Kedir Notification & Authorization Director at Ethiopian Radiation Protection Authority. The new regulation will enable the authority to fulfill its new duties.
The bill has been sent to the Council of Ministers for review and approval. Though the country has not started using nuclear technology, the new body will be tasked with setting requirements for nuclear protection, safety, security and safeguards to ensure the safe use of the technology. The new office will also establish the scope, responsibility, emergency and contingency preparedness and emergency response plans. He said that it took nearly a year to draft the bill.
Before it was submitted to the Council of Ministers, the bill was deliberated by representatives of 25 stakeholder institutions, including Addis Abeba University and the ministries of Defense and Health, according to Maeza Eshetu, communications officer at the Authority.
Established in 1993 under the Ministry of Science & Technology, the Authority was initially mandated with setting requirements and standards for the use of radiation at hospitals, road construction sites and testing products in conformity assessments. It was also tasked with regulating radiation involved in mining, processing, importing, exporting, distribution, transportation or storage.
As of last fiscal year, a total of 1,226 governmental and non-governmental agencies have registered and obtained licenses from the Authority to use ionized radiation materials.
“There are long-term plans to establish a nuclear reactor and medium-term plans to open nuclear research centres at universities,” said Sirur.
A year and a half ago, Ethiopia became a signatory to a memorandum of understanding with Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation, a Russian state nuclear agency, to establish atomic energy in Ethiopia. Last March, minister of foreign affairs Workneh Gebeyehu (PhD) and Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Affairs Minister, signed a separate memorandum of understanding concerning atomic energy cooperation.
The agreements between the two encompass the development of nuclear infrastructure in Ethiopia; collaboration in radiological and physical security; fundamental and applied research; conducting human resource training and creating nuclear research centres. It will also work on programs to raise public awareness of nuclear technologies and their utilisation.
Ethiopia also signed a Country Programme Framework with the International Atomic Energy Agency on September 20, 2018, to receive technical support. The framework identifies priority areas where the transfer of nuclear technology and technical cooperation and resources will be directed to support national development goals.
The five-year project with a phase-out date in 2023 will work on nuclear radiation safety and security; food and agriculture; health and nutrition; water resource management; energy planning; industrial applications and human resources capacity building.
Environmental experts applaud the move by the government in preparing for nuclear technology but caution about the consideration of prerequisites.
“It’s wise to lay out fundamentals regarding safety and security before the use of nuclear energy,” said Feyera Senbeta (PhD), an environmental scientist with over two decades of experience.
The environmental scientist also points out that lessons from other countries like Japan, which suffered nuclear catastrophes, should be taken before enacting such laws.
South Africa is the only country in Africa with a nuclear power plant. It has two reactors that produce five percent of the country’s electricity.
The Authority expects the approval of the bill this fiscal year, according to Sirur.
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