Mar 9, 2017

Nigeria’s Nuclear Energy Programme and the Question of Legality under International Law

The history of Nigeria’s nuclear technology started after her independence when the Federal Radiation Protection Service was established in 1964 (Mundu & Umar, 2004). However, Nigeria’s nuclear programme emerged tentatively in 1976 with the establishment of the Nigerian Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC), primarily as a response to South Africa’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and India’s test of a nuclear device (Lowbeer-Lewis, 2010).

By 1979, about 617,000 km2 of land area had been covered by aerial radiometric surveys and another 90,000 km2 had been covered by other surveys around potential Uranium basins (Energy Commission of Nigeria, 2003). The government also established two pilot nuclear research centers at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and the Amadu Bello University, Zaria to fast-track the nation’s nascent nuclear energy programme.

In 1995, the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NNRA) was created as national regulator and licensing authority empowered to develop and enforce regulations governing all operations in the nuclear industry (Ibitoye, 2014). With the number of nuclear research centers having risen to six, Nigeria acquired its first reactor which was commission at the Ahmadu Bello University in 2004 (Lowbeer-Lewis, 2010). The Nigerian energy policy, 2003 which included nuclear energy to the national energy basket set in motions chains of evens that culminated in the approval of sites at Geregu, Kogi State and Itu, Akwa Ibom State for the construction of the country’s pioneer nuclear power plants.

Nigeria’s determination to harness nuclear energy has not been without fears and questions. The announcement of the proposed nuclear plant sites was greeted with protest and stiff opposition that resonates to this day. Questions bothering on the legality of such programme in international law, safety and security of nuclear materials and possible diversion to military use have been and continue to be raised. The research investigates the legality of Nigeria’s nuclear programme under international law.

Nigeria’s Nuclear Energy Programme and the Question of Legality.
The Non Proliferations of Nuclear Weapons Treaty and the Statute of the International Atomic Energy (IAEA) constitutes the primary legal frameworks for international nuclear programme, whether for weapons or for energy. The NPT which was opened for signature in 1968 and ratified in 1970 is built around three pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful use of nuclear technology (Arsalan, 2008).

Nigeria joined the first wave of countries that signed and ratified the NPT in 1968. Having concluded a Comprehensive Safeguard Agreement (CSA) , with the IAEA in 1988, the country  continues played host to IAEA inspectors ( on inspection and verification tour)  in compliance with the CSA. The country’s nuclear programme is built on the questionable NPT pillar of peaceful utilization of nuclear energy by states. Article IV of the NPT recognizes the inherent right of Nigeria to “develop, research, production and use of nuclear energy without discrimination…” (NPT.1968).The only restriction placed on this right is that, it must be exercised in strict compliance with article and II of the NPT which prohibits the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In the absence of breach of the said articles, Nigeria is qualified to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy (NPT, 1968).

Article 4 of the CSA between the IAEA and Nigeria reconfirms Nigeria’s right to develop nuclear energy by providing that the safeguards contained in the CSA shall be implemented in a manner that does not hamper the economic and technological development of  Nigeria international co-operation in the field of peaceful nuclear activities (CSA, 1988). Furthermore, Nigeria effectively renounced nuclear weapons proliferation when it ratified the African Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Pelindaba) in 1996. The treaty of Pelindaba however encourages the peaceful use of nuclear science and technology for economic and social development by member states.
Finally, the establishment of nuclear energy regulatory agencies (NAEC & NNRA) meets IAEA’S requirement of the existence of a national system of accounting for and control of all nuclear materials.

With the exception of the threat to build nuclear weapon in the 80’s, Nigeria’s nuclear energy programme has been developed within the permissible parameters of international nuclear law. The country now stands as a responsible but budding nuclear player in the international community. The question that remains to be answered is how long can Nigeria sustain its compliance with international nuclear law?

The road to acquisition of nuclear weapons usually commences with supposed peaceful nuclear energy programmes. Hence, there is need for the strengthening of nuclear energy institutions in the country to allow for greater supervision and regulation of nuclear technologies. This is to guard against the diversion of nuclear materials for military purposes or proliferation of such materials to other non-nuclear weapons states.

African Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Pelindaba) 1996
Agreement of 29 February 1988 between Nigeria and the Agency for the Application of Safeguards in Connection with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. IAEA-INFCIRC/358
Arsalam, S. (2008) Arsalan Suleman, “The NPT, IAEA and the Nuclear Non-Proliferations Negotiations “,(2008) Berkeley Journal of International Law. Vol.28. Iss.1.p.206
Energy Commission Nigeria (2003), National Energy Master Plan. Federal Republic of Nigeria: Abuja.
Ibitoye, F.,(2014) An Overview of Nigeria’s Nuclear Energy Programme in the INPRO Methodology area of Infrastructure . Seminar Paper, 8th INPRO Dialogue Forum, Vienna, Austria. 26-29 August, 2014.

Lowbeer-Lewis Nathaniel (2010 ), Nigeria and Nuclear Energy: Plans and Prospects Nuclear Energy Futures Paper  No. 11 January 2010, the Centre for International Governance Innovation.
Mundu A., & Umar, A.M (2004), The Quest for Nuclear Technology and the Challenges of Knowledge Management in Nigeria. Proceedings of the International Conference on Nuclear on Nuclear Management, 7-10 September, Saclay, France. IAEA-11-CN-123.
Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 1956.
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons-NPT- (1 July 1968) 729 UNTS 161,

Anemuyem Akpan is a Lagos-based Legal Practitioner. For feedback, send an sms/mail to08063624048,

Ed's Note - This article was first published here