scientist Dr Dennis Minott has issued an appeal to Caribbean governments to exercise caution on the matter of erecting inland or near-shore mini nuclear fusion power plants, saying that any such venture could pose serious risk to lives and the natural environment.
Dr Minott, who has a PhD in physics, postgraduate training in applied nuclear physics, and undergraduate training in engineering, made the appeal in a letter to the Jamaica Observer over the weekend in response to a comment by Prime Minister Andrew Holness at the opening ceremony of Expo Jamaica 2023 on April 27.
Holness had said that the Government was looking at introducing new energy sources that will make power generation in Jamaica more reliable, available, and affordable.
“We are currently doing a new integrated resource plan to make sure that when we do introduce more green energy, up to 50 per cent, that the entire grid is stable, and that the capacity has been increased,” the Jamaica Information Service reported Holness as saying.
“So, we are looking at pumped hydro storage… looking at the Mahogany Vale project, which I announced as an important element in our energy mix. I have [also] met with the International Atomic Agency. Jamaica has to explore new technology in nuclear energy, small nuclear plants to generate energy in Jamaica, which will be cheaper, more stable, and more affordable,” he added, as he indicated that the Government is serious about insulating the economy from energy shocks and high energy prices.
These initiatives, Holness is reported as saying, may take a decade to happen, but the country, he argued, has been lagging for 40 years.
“Let us start doing things differently. Let us start looking at the big projects that are going to make the difference, and that is what we are investing in now, to create a new paradigm in energy in Jamaica,” the prime minister said.
Dr Minott did not name Holness in his letter; however, it was clear that he was including the Jamaican chief executive in his plea to Caribbean leaders.
Stating that he understands the importance of considering all available options when it comes to energy generation, Minott said that “it is crucial that we do not compromise safety and sustainability in the pursuit of cheaper or more efficient energy”.
“As you are well aware, the Caribbean is renowned for its beautiful beaches, diverse wildlife, and vibrant communities. It is essential that we prioritise the safety of our people, environment, and future generations when making decisions about energy generation,” Minott said.
“Given our geographies, it is almost impossible to locate any small nuclear fusion power plant that would be 35km or more clear of human, large-animal, or fish habitation on these islands. Moreover, nuclear wastes must be safely disposed of, and there is very limited availability of trained physicists and nuclear power engineers, let alone civilian nuclear power technicians. Therefore, it would be unwise to venture into nuclear energy without proper consideration of the long-term implications,” he argued.
He said the potential dangers of nuclear energy are well-documented, and “it would be irresponsible to put our people and environment at risk without proper consideration of the consequences”.
He reiterated his appeal to Caribbean leaders to prioritise the safety of the region’s people and environment when considering energy-generation options.
“There are many viable alternatives to nuclear energy that we can further explore, including renewable energy sources like solar, wind power, small, medium and mini-hydro, and farmed biomass. These options are safer, more sustainable, and less likely to cause harm to our communities,” Minott stated.
In 2022, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) launched a project to help Caribbean countries safely reap the benefits of nuclear technologies in medicine, industry, agriculture, and research.
The Regulatory Infrastructure Development Project opened on April 11 with a four-day workshop in Vienna, Austria, with some participants joining online. Government officials from 14 countries in the region, all at different stages in the development of their nuclear regulatory infrastructure, had the opportunity to hold bilateral sessions with IAEA experts to assess their needs, the agency stated in an online report.
Participants included experts from Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis, and Suriname.
Two years earlier, Jamaica officially launched its Hazardous Substances Regulatory Authority, becoming the first Caricom member state to establish an independent regulatory body to ensure safety and security in the operation of facilities involving ionising radiation and nuclear technology in the country, including the Caribbean’s only nuclear reactor — the 20kW SLOWPOKE research reactor, which is owned and operated by The University of the West Indies on its Mona Campus.
The reactor is primarily used for neutron activation analysis of trace elements in studies related to health, the environment and agriculture as well as in education and training.