Experts allay Kilifi residents' fears over planned Sh500b nuclear plant

Uyombo village residents in Kilifi County who are opposed to the construction of a Sh500 billion nuclear plant are being sensitised by experts. [File, Standard]

The sleepy village of Uyombo in Kilifi County has been thrust into the global limelight following plans by the government to set up a nuclear plant in the area to generate electricity.

Kenya got the approval to build a nuclear power plant from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2021, and the government has intensified efforts to build the nuclear plant by the year 2034.

There is skepticism by environmentalists about the safety of the plant to residents and the environment, including marine life.

However, the Coast Professionals lobby group has already endorsed the government plan.

IAEA director for Africa, Prof Shaukat Abdulrazak, a native of Kilifi, allayed the fears, saying the benefits of nuclear technology far outweigh its perceived demerits.

He said many African countries are exploring the possibility of constructing nuclear plants to generate electricity and that Kenya should not lag in exploiting clean energy.

“Fourteen African countries are considering nuclear power generation for electricity while the likes of China are building new plants,” said Abdulrazak.

There are 400 nuclear power generation plants in 32 countries across the world producing over 11 per cent of electricity, according to Abdulrazak.

“Nuclear is widely used in radiotherapy in our hospitals. Nuclear power can help us desalinate salt water for domestic use. I would like to encourage more public awareness for the residents of Uyombo,” he added.

But at Uyombo village in Kilifi North, the proposed site of the country’s first nuclear power plant, residents are still clueless and fear the effects of the plant on their safety.

Chai Baya, a resident, said he wants assurance that radiation from the nuclear plant will not affect fishing or the general population once the plant is in operation.

“We are a fishing community, and we fear fish will disappear from the sea around Uyombo if the plant begins operation. We also fear losing livelihoods if we are relocated from here as we are not sure of getting another place to fish,” he said.

Florence Dama, is concerned that Uyombo falls under the stalled Madeteni settlement scheme and hence they may get a raw deal in land compensation as they lack title deeds.

“Some influential people may take advantage and steal our land to get compensation from the government. We should be issued with title deeds before the project begins,” she said.

Pwani University lecturer Halim Shauri said the country has continued to experience frequent power outages and Kenyans should embrace nuclear power generation to address the problem if the country has to enter the industrialisation phase.

“Other African countries are exploring nuclear energy and we should also go for it. Why should we trust doctors to operate our bodies and ignore science when it comes to nuclear energy?” he said.

The Nuclear Power and Energy Agency (NuPEA) has begun consultations with Coast residents and professionals on the merits and demerits of nuclear power production with a focus on putting nuclear electricity in the national grid by 2034.

The plan is to generate up to 4,000 megawatts in the next 12 years or so. Apart from Uyombo, NuPEA is also considering the Coast of Kwale as an alternative site for building the nuclear plant which requires a lot of water during its operations.

At Uyombo, the locals claim they were in the dark regarding information about the projects and asked NuPEA to hold a series of public participation meetings to clear the air before they could endorse it.

Centre for Governance, Justice and Environment Action (CGJEA), Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri), Watamu Turtle Watch, and Ocean Conservation Group vowed to push for the interests of residents.

CGJEA executive director Phyllis Omido claimed the government has been giving area residents half-baked information about the safety of the project and challenged NuPEA to clear the residents’ concerns instead of profiling the civil society.

“We stand with the community on this project. The government should give the community the positive and negative side of the project as well as the mitigation measures in place and stop profiling civil society,” she said.

NuPEA director for Energy Infrastructure Development engineer Eric Ohaga noted that they were developing the project with close supervision of the IAEA based in Vienna, Austria, and that they have put all safety and security measures in place.

“They gave us conditions in 2016 and we have complied with most of them until we have reached the second phase, which is construction,” he said, adding that Kenya was on schedule to produce nuclear power by 2034.

NuPEA acting chief executive officer Justus Wabuyabo said nuclear energy is stable and does not cause carbon emissions.

“We will adhere to international standards that guarantee the safety of everyone,” he said, cautioning locals against misinformation about the planned nuclear plant.