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The Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology as a way to boost Zambia’s economy

Staff at Lusaka’s University Teaching Hospital, which will benefit from the nuclear medicine expertise of the Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology.

For ten years up to 2014 Zambia had one of the world’s fastest growing economies with real GDP growth averaging roughly 6.7% per annum. Nevertheless, in 2015 economic growth slowed down dramatically to 3.6% mainly due to an over-dependence on copper import which in turn suffered from China’s economic slowdown.  Thus according to a World Bank report in 2017, Zambia’s economic growth recovered to an estimated 3.9% (from 3.8% in 2016) on the back of a bumper crop harvest and better electricity supply. Despite stronger economic growth and its status as a lower middle-income country, the Zambia has a strong commitment to become a middle-income country by 2030 and to reach long-term sustainability.

However, there are serious challenges to achieving this goal: widespread and rural poverty as a result of high unemployment levels remains a significant problem. If the country hopes to meet its full economic potential in order to solve these issues it needs to further diversify its economy.

This sentiment is highlighted in details in the country’s Seventh National Development Plan which outlines Government’s aspirations to deliver a prosperous middle income economy that offers decent employment opportunities for all Zambians of different skills and background, by harnessing opportunities for economic diversification and growth.

The plan further states that economic diversification offers Zambians opportunities to realize additional jobs and benefits from Zambia’s vast endowment of natural and human resources. Zambians, both from rural and urban areas, will benefit from a stronger and more diversified economy that supports a strong manufacturing base.  

The vast raw materials in agriculture and mining offer opportunities for value addition through forward linkages to manufacturing and agro-processing, and increased production and exportation of non-traditional exports to domestic and international markets.

In the 2018 National Budget Address the Minister of Finance reiterated the Government’s commitment to diversification and noted that industrialisation is a key to the promotion of value addition and the attainment of its ambitious economic diversification agenda.

One project that government has embarked on under the auspices of this plan to promote economic diversification is the construction of The Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology (CNST) in Chongwe. The center which will be constructed by Russian state owned nuclear corporation, Rosatom will boast a wide range of applications of radiation technologies in medicine, agriculture and industry, which includes a technological industry platform to enhance national industry development. The CNST also promises to promote the enhancement of national education and science through the training of highly qualified experts in various fields. 
Mr. Reuben Katebe, National Coordinator of the CNST project highlighted that the center is going to open up many opportunities for the country to grow its economy in various sectors, especially those which are still developing. “The center will be used for research, science and the production of live saving medicine. It is not about producing electricity. It is for the greater good of our people and not about destruction as many here perceive. 

Dmitri Vysotski, Director of Nuclear Research Reactors at Rusatom Overseas, noted that global experience demonstrates that the development of nuclear technology has contributed to significant technical progress in numerous social and economic fields. And the Center for the nuclear research and technologies that Zambian government plans to build in Chongwe will make it possible for Zambia to boost its social and economic development, as the potential of the center has a broad range of applications in medicine, agriculture, mining exploration and industry.

What are the main economic advantages of building CNST?

The CNST will bring various economic advantages, including but not limited to the following; new technological industry platforms, national industry development, improving regional investment climates, agricultural export growth, new jobs as well as increased life expectancy and improved quality of life for the economically active population.

“The establishment of The Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology will be useful for training of personnel for nuclear programmes. It is also important to note that there will be other resultant benefits such as increased foreign exchange earnings, creation of employment opportunities, gaining access to the international markets for Zambia’s agricultural products and increased competitiveness and viability of Zambian industries”, – the Minister of Higher Education, Hon. Prof. Nkandu Luo.

The CNST comprises of several departments such as laboratories, a research reactor, a multipurpose irradiation facility as well as educational facilities. Students and specialists in the field will have an opportunity to get the access to the information on nuclear science and technology, conduct research using high tech equipment as well as complete theoretical and practical training at the facility.

However, the most important departments are considered to be the nuclear medicine and multipurpose irradiation centers. The first mentioned is intended to diagnose and treat cardiac, oncological and neurological diseases, using a variety of equipment included in the centre. As for the multipurpose irradiation centre, it is a complex of systems and equipment necessary to perform radiation processing of food and materials to enhance their safety and quality. Irradiation of the products is accepted as a safe and effective method of preservation because it destroys disease-causing bacteria and reduces the risk of food borne illnesses. The use of radiation for food processing will improve food safety, extend shelf life and create conditions for the increase of Zambian agricultural exports. 

 “Food irradiation (the application of ionizing radiation to food) is a technology that improves the safety and extends the shelf life of foods by reducing or eliminating microorganisms and insects. Like pasteurizing milk and canning fruits and vegetables, irradiation can make food safer for the consumer. Unlike traditional forms of food preservation nuclear techniques do not cause changes to the taste, appearance, nutrition value and final quality of food”, – commented Dmitri Vysotski.

To summarize, it needs to be said that global experience has demonstrated that the development of nuclear technology has contributed to substantial technical progress in numerous social and economic fields. The development of nuclear is capable of improving the quality of education, creating new highly-paid jobs and the emergence of new specialists in various spheres like medicine, agriculture and industry.

Source: Langmead & Baker