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This chapter shows how Ghanaian scientists tapped resources from different countries in their quest for a nuclear reactor, from the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, to Canada, the United Arab Republic, India, and China. While many people living near Ghana’s Atomic Energy Commission believe the site has hosted a reactor since around 1966, it actually took several more decades to install the first low power research reactor, the GHARR-1, at Kwabenya. Nkrumah’s bid to obtain a reactor provoked the wrath of France, the United States, and the United Kingdom, all of whom backed the coup d’état against him. It then considers how subsequent governments tried to rekindle the Soviet nuclear reactor initiative and explored other possible reactors from Western powers, but finally settled on a Chinese offer. The chapter relies on a variety of sources including GAEC records, British spy reports, and correspondence between Nkrumah and Khrushchev of the Soviet Union. The chapter provides critical insights, including difficulties the Ghanaian government had in maintaining payments to the Soviets, problems with the storage of the unfinished reactor components while post-Nkrumah regimes mothballed the nuclear program, and several subsequent contracts for reactors that fell apart due to political instability.
The preface reflects on the history of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission from the author’s first knowledge of its existence as a child, to her first visits to the area in 2004 and 2006. It describes the GHARR-1 after her first visit to the reactor building.
This chapter locates Ghana’s quest for nuclear power within the context of French bomb tests in the Sahara that sent radioactive materials across West Africa. In 1959, French scientists announced plans to detonate a series of bombs in their colony of Algeria, where resistance fighters sought to remove the French occupation. The French bomb tests further exacerbated tensions between the European nation and African leaders like Nkrumah, who supported the Algerian independence struggle. The prospect of French nuclear weapons extended the terror of Western atomic bomb activity from Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and the South Pacific test fields to the African continent. Once fallout from the French detonations reached Ghanaian towns, the outrage from Nkrumah’s government and his international supports was tremendous. The French bombs helped to mobilize interest in fallout monitoring at the University of Ghana and led to Ghana’s bid to join the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Ghana’s efforts to eliminate bomb testing across Africa through the United Nations.
This chapter considers how did Ghanaian physicists made nuclear science their own under the watchful eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency within what I term a “nuclear protectorate?” During the long battle to secure a nuclear reactor for the Ghana, GAEC sustained one of its additional roles as outlined in the initial 1963 Act 204 that had established it: monitoring radiation at the nation’s x-ray facilities. This work gave GAEC a mandate to apply physics to human bodies. Hospitals and ports turned on radiation sources and GAEC scientists monitored them to measure the levels of exposure to radiographers. Nuclear physicists also introduced new ways to irradiate insects to sterilize pesky disease-carrying flies and kill insect eggs on crops to prolong shelf live. While it took a long time to expand their research programs with an actual reactor, GAEC scientists managed to flourish in their continued quest to make physics relevant to Ghanaian life. The IAEA came to depend on Ghanaian experts as some of the most highly trained nuclear scientists in Africa. They were constantly in demand to represent the continent in IAEA committees, training programs, and observational teams.
This chapter considers how Ghanaian scientists gleaned information on nuclear physics from different sources, most notably Soviet universities, and shared information with subsequent generations of Ghanaian students. To acquire nuclear power, Ghanaian scientists needed to become experts in nuclear physics. For many of them, that quest began in the Soviet Union. This chapter relies heavily on reminiscences of Ghana’s first generation of nuclear physicists, detailing their trials learning physics in Russian, the rejection of their Soviet training in Ghana after the overthrow of Nkrumah, and their ongoing efforts to secure further training abroad and employment abroad, whether in Gaddafi’s Libya, or for the IAEA in Vienna. These scientists sustained their knowledge and interest in nuclear physics by offering extensive training courses, first at GAEC and later at the Ghana School of Nuclear and Allied Sciences. Scientists from Ghana and visitors from other African countries who enrolled in these courses in turn shared their knowledge within a growing community of African nuclear physicists. Central to my analysis is the question of language, or what Michael Gordin has termed the “scientific Babel” of the early Cold War period, and the challenges of integrating different training experiences into a unified Ghanaian approach.
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