Kilifi residents split over nuclear power plant


Nuclear Power Plant Cooling Towers with streams pouring out into the purple-blue dusk night sky.  [Getty Images]

The plan to build a Sh500 billion nuclear power plant at Uyombo in Kilifi county has drawn mixed reactions from residents with some welcoming the project while others insisting it would pose danger to them and the environment.

The Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) is expected to generate 1,000 megawatts by 2034 to cater for Kenya's soaring energy needs and spur industrial development. 

Speaking during a sensitization forum organiszed by the Nuclear Power and Energy Agency (NuPEA) in Kilifi town at the weekend, a section of locals expressed support for nuclear energy as an integral part of the country's source of clean energy. 

Uyombo Madeteni B village elder Katsaka Kirao urged residents to consider the future and the next generation. 

“Energy consumption in the country is growing. We must diversify production and ensure stable generation of clean energy," said Kirao.

He faulted people who have been doing rounds misleading residents about the project.

"The problem is a group of people has been misinterpreting the information to residents. When we were first told about the project, we didn't understand, so another group came in and told us that the project was bad and it would kill people. Because of this, it caused a lot of panic and people had a negative perception of the project," he explained.

Another resident, Bahati Karisa Mwenyeji, hoped to get employment once the project is implemented.

"At the beginning, a group of people came to our village and told us to reject the project, but they didn't give a valid reason. All they were saying was we will experience an incident similar to the Fukushima nuclear power accident in Japan, where a tsunami caused hydrogen explosions, reactor meltdowns and mass evacuations," Mwenyeji said.

"I don't think the nuclear power plant (NPP) will affect us. Good engineers should be hired to avoid violations of the safety regulations. The whole world is building NPPs, why can't we?" He posed.

He said after getting clear information, he realized the merits of the project outweighed its negative side.

Mwenyeji argued that the population of Uyombo would increase due to the project and give life to the sleepy village.

He assured that fears about the environment will be mitigated by modern technology and urged residents not to worry. 

Residents told the government to continue with the sensitization forums and counter those inciting residents to reject the project.

But opponents cited the danger of accidents and radiation, corruption, the prospect
of escalating project costs, and the lack of specialized technicians in the country. 

“Following a nuclear explosion, radioactive particles mix with dust in the air and spread into the atmosphere. In unfavourable weather, this radioactive dust sweeps up into the clouds and rain, travelling far beyond the test site," claimed James Kea.

"On one hand, I support its construction because it will create jobs and many people in this village and spur development. On the other hand, I am concerned about ecology," he said. 

Environmentalists have claimed that numerous studies have confirmed that children who live near nuclear power plants are likely to develop leukemia, and die of cancer from radioactive emissions. 

Earlier, NuPEA Director for Publicity and Advocacy Basett Buyukah, said before the station is built, a feasibility study and environmental impact assessment will be done.

He assured that the opinions of all interested parties will be collected and put into the final report that will inform the decision to put up the plant. 

Mr Buyukah assured locals that the nuclear energy plan will adhere to the laws and regulations and conform to the standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and international best practices. 

However, human rights groups said the safety and security measures are merely “window dressing and hot air" as the dangers of the plant remain the same. 

Deputy Director and head of the Natural Resources Management Department at the National Land Commission Bernard Opaa, told residents that the commission will investigate the legal land owners before compensation. 

He assured the residents that the commission would prepare a detailed and transparent
investigation before approving the payment and compensation for the people whose land is used for government projects.

"Before we recommend payment, we do an inquiry to authenticate the people who own the land," he said. 

Local politicians have been seeking to educate the public on the benefits of the nuclear power plant, but they feared the wrath of the residents opposed to the project.

Uyombo is a village next to the beach in Matsangoni, Kilifi county, and has been earmarked to host Kenya’s first nuclear reactor. 

According to NuPEA, the project was already approved by the IAEA in 2021, and Uyombo has been identified as the most suitable site in the country.