By Peter Babs Imade:

• Acting President seeks World Bank assistance for power sector

THE United States (U.S.) is to help Nigeria develop nuclear technology for peaceful uses, it was learnt yesterday.

The promise was made by the U.S. Vice President, Joseph Biden, when Acting President Goodluck Jonathan met him over lunch in Washington DC late Monday night (Nigerian time).

According to a White House statement, Biden at the lunch attended by 10 other Non-Aligned Movement members, “affirmed that any state in good standing on its non-proliferation obligations that is interested in pursuing nuclear energy and needs assistance would find a ready partner in the United States”.

Nigeria is known to be pursuing nuclear energy for power generation, even though its ultimate realisation may be several years away.

Biden hosted leaders and officials from 11 nations in advance of the Nuclear Security Summit, which formally kicked off yesterday at the Washington DC Convention Centre with Jonathan leading the Nigerian delegation.

Nigeria’s Ambassador to the U.S., Prof. Adebowale Adefuye, said the Acting President pledged Nigeria’s continued support for a nuclear-free world.

Biden later promised U.S. support for Nigeria for peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The White House statement added that heads of government and other representatives from nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, who are members of the Non-Aligned Movement, were those at the lunch meeting.

The statement noted that the “purpose was to exchange views on nuclear security and proliferation issues and the urgency of addressing global risks of nuclear terrorism.”

At the meeting, which was mainly addressed by Biden, he underlined the interest shared by all nations in ensuring the security of nuclear materials that can be used in weapons and in shoring up international non-proliferation rules.

Those rules, he said, “are centred in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), an agreement that sets requirements for preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to additional states and encourages progress towards disarmament and the safe and secure peaceful use of nuclear energy.”

According to the White House, participants at the meeting “emphasised the close relationship between nuclear security and the development of nuclear energy.”

Biden noted that peaceful nuclear uses can flourish in a world in which nuclear risks are steadily reduced and non-proliferation rules are respected and enforced.

“With the number of nations with nuclear energy programmes expected to double by mid-century, and with much of that growth in the developing world, it will be essential that nuclear security be applied globally in line with the highest international standards,” he noted.

Also in Washington on Monday, Jonathan met World Bank top officials during which they critically reviewed the power sector in Nigeria and resolved that urgent measures and attention are required to solve the problem.

Reports had it that at a meeting attended by the World Bank President Bob Zoellick, Jonathan was unmistakably clear on the need for the bank to help Nigeria solve its power sector challenges immediately.

Specifically, he asked the bank to help Nigeria conduct a technical audit of its power sector.

A statement by the Nigerian Ambassador to the U.S., Prof. Adebowale Ibidapo Adefuye, who joined the Acting President at the meeting, disclosed that having commended the World Bank for its current engagements in Nigeria, put at $4 billion, Jonathan requested that the country’s immediate remedy in the power sector “lies in the activation of its hydroelectric potential for which World Bank’s help is being requested.”

However, for this assistance to be of maximum use, there would be “an immediate need for a comprehensive technical audit to identify critical areas of urgency. The World Bank is best placed to send its experts to undertake this audit,” the statement noted.

The Acting President was said to have explained at the meeting that currently, Nigeria’s power comes from hydroelectric sources whose turbines, due to their age, require urgent refurbishment and replacement.

Although he said the Federal Government is also considering an additional power source from its rich coal deposits, Jonathan added that, that may likely take a longer time to materialise.

The government is also considering exploiting nuclear-based sources to generate power, Jonathan said, adding that nuclear exploitation for power “may take between eight and 10 years due to the stringent requirements by the IAEA.”

It is for this reason, the statement added, that “Nigeria’s immediate remedy lies in the activation of its hydroelectric potential, for which the World Bank’s help is being requested.”

Replying at the meeting, also attended by two former Nigerian ministers, who are now top officials of the World Bank – Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (its Managing Director) and Dr. Oby Ezekwesili (Vice President for Africa) – Zoellick stressed the need for Nigeria to prioritise its focus, maintain its renewed vigour and accelerate decisions on policy issues in the power sector.

Zoellick also explained that there are urgent policy decisions, institutional and market pricing issues, which the Federal Government needs to address in a timely fashion to expedite action in the power sector.

The bank, therefore, promised to send to Nigeria its leading expert on power, although a source said the expert had been sent in the past, but the government did not take full advantage of his presence.

In fact, a meeting has been proposed by the bank with the Nigerian power sector stakeholders, while an offer to help Nigeria look for investors in the sector was also given at the parley.

Adefuye said in his statement that the World Bank, indeed, expressed the desire “to see Nigeria’s generating capacity supported by a strong policy regime. To tackle the matter in a more technical way, the World Bank proposed a further meeting with Nigeria’s stakeholders in the sector to explore, evaluate and deploy effective strategies.

“The bank further pledged to look for investors in the sector, including the International Finance Corporation, which is the private sector arm of the World Bank Group.”

Other topics discussed at the meeting included the Niger Delta amnesty programme, mass transit, the petroleum sector, the financial sector, as well as telecommunications and assets recovery.

At the end of the meeting, Jonathan invited the World Bank President to visit Nigeria.

The Acting President also participated in a welcome dinner on Monday night with U.S. President Barack Obama, which the latter hosted for all presidents and leaders attending the Nuclear Security Summit.

Besides, as at press time yesterday, Jonathan was meeting with the United Nations (U.N.) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

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