Calls for nuclear safety as Kenya hosts 14th anniversary of African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty

Enobot Agboraw

Kenya Nuclear Regulatory Authority Director -General James Keter (left) with Africa Commission on Nuclear Energy Executive Secretary Enobot Agboraw during the 14th anniversary of the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty in Nairobi on July 15, 2023.

Photo credit: Pool

African countries have pledged to work together to promote peace and security by making the continent a nuclear-weapon-free zone.

This came as Kenya hosted the 14th anniversary of the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty, also known as the Pelindaba Treaty, in Nairobi on Saturday.

The African Commission on Nuclear Energy (Afcone) spearheaded the event, which called on countries to reflect on the achievements and challenges in implementing the historic treaty, which was signed by Kenya on 11 April 1996.

It is one of the international decrees that prohibit the existence, testing, development and deployment of nuclear weapons in Africa. The Treaty originated in July 1964 at the First Ordinary Session of Heads of State and Government of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) remains at the heart of global efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) imposing legal obligations on countries. Nuclear weapons kill or sicken those exposed to them.

During the commemoration, Kenya reaffirmed its commitment to the positive use of nuclear energy for energy, food, health and environmental protection.
Officials from the Kenya Nuclear Regulatory Authority (KNRA) and the Nuclear Power and Energy Agency (Nupea) called for innovation in the use of nuclear technology to promote industrial, social and economic development.

"Kenya is privileged to host this event. It gives us the stamina and energy to work together to create a safety-oriented mindset," said KNRA Director General James Keter Chumba, who delivered the opening address.

Mr Keter added: "The benefits of nuclear technology have increased tremendously over the years, especially in meeting energy needs, tackling the problem of poverty, food insecurity and environmental threats".

Other speakers at the event included AFCONE Executive Secretary Enobot Agboraw, the agency's commissioner from DR Congo Gracien Bakambo and Nupea Acting CEO Justus Walubengo.

Saturday's award came barely a month after Kenya hosted a regional forum attended by 22 African countries that explored ways to raise awareness and ensure safety in the use of radiation and nuclear technology.

And in April, the US government hosted a major conference where countries including Kenya and Ghana discussed the need to establish nuclear power programmes that meet the highest standards of safety, security and non-proliferation.

At the talks in Washington DC, countries shared their experiences in developing their nuclear programmes, in what experts say is a significant step forward as eminent scientists, politicians and regulators gather to discuss opportunities and challenges.

Kenya has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the US under the Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST Project), an initiative stemming from US President Joe Biden's 2021 Leaders' Summit on Climate.

The project provides capacity building to nearly 20 partner countries seeking to establish or expand their nuclear energy programmes to meet clean energy needs while maintaining the highest standards of nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation.

Recent efforts by the KNRA to enhance security include public awareness campaigns and training of Kenya Defence Forces officers in the detection and handling of chemical, biological and radiological threats.