Pledging to Share and Collaborate: Eleven African Countries and their Supporting Partners Kicked off a new Project to Increase Regional Nuclear Safety and Security

24 February 2017, Nairobi. The Inception meeting of a new project that will boost nuclear safety and security in the region of Eastern and Central Africa, offered ample opportunities to the representatives of national regulatory bodies, scientific and research institutes from eleven African countries and to their partners from European institutions and supporting organizations, to chart a road map for their joint endeavour. As a convener of the meeting in Nairobi at the end of February, the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) – the project’s implementing partner – presented the guiding principles, working schedule, main activities and expected results of the initiative, titled Support to the European Union Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Center of Excellence (EU CBRN CoE) for Eastern and Central Africa in Nuclear Security.

The experts on radiological and nuclear (RN) issues from the participating countries shared information about existing legal frameworks, institutional mechanisms and national policies on nuclear safety and security; they approved an initial outline for specialized trainings and field exercises that will increase their capabilities to better respond to RN risks; and agreed that the project’s envisaged activities can help them better address the challenges of managing RN sources in all industrial and medical domains, and of ensuring safe trans-border transportation of RN materials.

The following countries will be collaborating along the implementation of the project: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, The Seychelles, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Namibia. They can rely on applying the expertise of renowned institutions from around the world, that are ready to offer support and assistance. For example, the Institute of Nuclear Physics of Kazakhstan and the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa have both being invited in Nairobi to present their achievements, areas of expertise and comparative advantages in the legal, scientific, and managerial aspects of the nuclear and radiological safety and security.

“For us, the project comes at a right time”, said on the side of the Inception meeting the representative of Rwanda. “Our country is now trying to establish a regulatory framework and to train those involved in RN issues”. “A very opportune timing”, echoed the representative of the Seychelles, “when we are finalizing our regulation on nuclear safety and security”. The representative of Uganda made a similar assessment: “the project will boost the efforts that we are already putting in establishing a RN waste management facility and in emergency preparedness”.   

Two representatives stressed that the project’s anticipated interventions fit well with on-going activities in their countries: for Malawi, the development of an emergency response plan, for Zambia, the review and amendments of the legal and regulatory frameworks.

Some countries expressed explicitly their willingness to share knowledge, experiences and good practices.  “We are even ready to bring people to Ghana, to train, to help them”, assured the national focal point from Accra. The representative of Kenya, prof. Joseph Maina, who is also the head of the Regional Secretariat of the EU CBRN Center of Excellence for Eastern and Central Africa asserted: “Kenya has a lot to share because the country has a solid and well developed regulatory infrastructure. It has a state of art in the region storage facility for orphan sources and a good enforcement practice – it is a best practice within the African countries.”

The representative of Burundi pointed at a key element, which made the participation of his country in the initiative a must, namely – its regional scope; and the representative of Ethiopia concurred that “this kind of project not only helps build the capacity of each participating country but also provides an opportunity for similar organizations in neighbouring countries to bring their resources together”. The representative of DR Congo reminded that its country started the talk and “other countries, realising the problems of transportation and management of radioactive materials, have joined us and thus made the project regional.”  

A good example of the need of regional approach was the presentation at the Inception meeting of a similar project that the ISTC will be implementing, namely Support to Southern African States in Nuclear Safety and Safeguards. It will target African countries preparing to engage in mining and transportation of uranium ore concentrate through their territories: Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and Namibia. Seizing the complementarity of the two initiatives, the representative of Namibia, said: “Going back, we need to prepare ourselves to be able to absorb the assistance that is forthcoming. I am seeing it as a game changer. We can have the opportunity to give input into what we see happening; the main area that I would like to see implemented is the information system, which will facilitate the exchange between member states and improve the coordination especially in uranium mining. I would love to see a system whereby we could do our regulatory functions… and then also be able to share especially when it pertains to our safeguards obligation, the IAEA obligations and protocols and agreements that we have signed.”

The overall long-term objective of the project Support to theThe EU Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Center of Excellence (CBRN CoE) for Eastern and Central Africa in Nuclear Security,  is to strengthen and harmonize the nuclear regulatory frameworks in the participating countries, to enhance their nuclear safety and security and to support their efforts to fulfill the international safeguards obligations they have assumed under a plethora of UN and multilateral treaties and conventions.

“I think it is a very good project, very useful for the countries. The level of the experts that participated in the Inception meeting was sufficiently convincing that the participating countries are really committed to working together” commented Eddie Maier, Deputy Head of Unit with the European Commission Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG-DEVCO). Representatives of the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Union Delegation to Kenya, the Secretariat of AESA On-Site Technical Assistance (OSA) have also participated in the Inception meeting as stakeholders and providers of specialised assistance.

The project Support to the European Union Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Center of Excellence (EU CBRN CoE) for Eastern and Central Africa in Nuclear Security within the framework of the EU Instrument contributing to Peace and Security, features as Number 60 in the long list of projects that have been initiated within the CBRN Centers of Excellence initiative of the European Union. The project Support to Southern African States in Nuclear Safety and Safeguards is initiated under the EU Instrument for Nuclear Safety Cooperation.  Both projects will be implemented in parallel by the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) with over 20 years of experience of working on CBRN issues. Funded by the EU and conceived as complementary to each other, the two initiatives illustrate the internationally recommended “Triple S” approach addressing simultaneously the nuclear safety, safeguards and security issues.