26 March 2014

Nigeria: President Jonathan Commits to a Secure Nuclear Future in Nigeria

Photo: Amanda Voisard/UN
President Goodluck Jonathan

Nigeria is committed to negotiations on a "multi-lateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons", said President Goodluck Jonathan at the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) held on Monday and Tuesday in The Hague.

President Jonathan, who arrived in the Netherlands for the event on Sunday, stated that Nigeria is converting its limited stock of highly enriched uranium to lowly enriched uranium, and is working in collaboration with the US and China.

But long before President Barack Obama's initiative to raise awareness on global nuclear security via the NSS - the summit's first edition was held in Washington, D.C., in 2010 - Nigeria was tracking the usage of radioactive sources in the exploration of oil and medical facilities. The government had established the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NNRA), under the mandate of the Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Act of 1995.

With the increasing activities of insurgents, like Boko Haram, and the country's uranium stock, it has become imperative for Nigeria to guard itself against nuclear terrorism.

Experts, policymakers and politicians around the world agree that nuclear terrorism poses a grave threat that must be prevented. Last year in neighbouring Niger, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) suicide bombers attacked a uranium mine owned by nuclear company Areva. The attack killed 26 people and injured another 30. AQIM is known to have ties to Boko Haram.

Nuclear research reactor

At present, Nigeria has a nuclear research reactor located at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Kaduna state. The Nigeria Research Reactor-1 - NIRR-1 for short - is used for training purposes. It runs on enriched uranium weapon grade material. NIRR-1, which was installed by the Chinese, was commissioned in 2004 during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, though the contract was awarded during the government of General Sani Abacha.

The reactor is the primary reason Nigeria is participating in the NSS, according to Sunday Jonah, a professor at the Centre for Energy Research And Training (CERT) at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria who spoke at the Nuclear Knowledge Summit, a side event of the NSS held in Amsterdam late last week.

Considering the raging insurgency by Boko Haram in some parts of the country, Jonah remarked that there was adequate protection in place at the reactor location in Nigeria. However, in his view, the best way to protect the material from non-state actors who pose a threat would be through its immediate conversion to low-grade uranium.

Obligations to international treaties

At the NSS, Jonathan also reiterated the federal government's commitment to accommodate Nigeria's obligations under international treaties on nuclear safety and security through an executive bill, which is awaiting passage by the National Assembly. This, he remarked, was in line with Nigeria's commitment to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

"Nigeria shares the view that fewer nuclear weapons translate into more nuclear security, while at the same time reducing the risk of proliferation," he said.

Jonathan was accompanied on the trip by Nigerian Minister of Defence Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki and Minister of Foreign Affairs Aminu Wali, amongst several other officials of government.

The next and last in a series of Nuclear Security Summits will be hosted by President Obama in 2016 back in Washington, D.C.

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