- Uyombo is a village next to the beach in Matsangoni, Kilifi county and has been earmarked to host Kenya’s first nuclear reactor.
- The residents and environmental activists however remain unconvinced and still maintain there is greater risk to their health than the benefits they will get from the reactor.
Environmental activists in Kilifi county have accused the government of trying to force a ‘dangerous’ project on Uyombo residents.
Uyombo is a village next to the beach in Matsangoni, Kilifi county and has been earmarked to host Kenya’s first nuclear reactor.
On Thursday, the Centre for Justice, Governance and Environment Action organized the training to enlighten the residents on the effects of a nuclear reactor on the environment and how to best protect themselves from possible harm.
However, police disrupted the training before it even started and dispersed the residents who had gathered there.
They said the meeting was illegal.
On Sunday, CJGEA executive director Phyllis Omido termed the police action “extrajudicial, punitive and abuse of power by the state officers”.
“We tried to reason with them but they refused. They kept whisking our chairs away and were determined to prevent the meeting from happening,” Omido told the Star.
She said the security and administrative agencies have been holding meetings over the same and she has been attending them.
“Why is it that when we call the meeting, it suddenly becomes illegal and suddenly there are security risks?” she posed on the phone Sunday.
However, Matsangoni police boss Kenneth Maina told the Star the activists were inciting the locals against the project.
“You know the other day we had a meeting with the PS there and it was successful. Nobody is denied the right of picketing, demonstrating and the like but these people did not get a permit or notify the police,” Maina told the Star on the phone.
He said police never deny anyone any right to do anything, but procedures must be followed.
“There was no confrontation. When the OCS arrived at the scene and asked them to disperse, they did,” Maina said.
CJGEA, Ujamaa Centre, Muslims for Human Rights and Turtle Watch are among the environmental and human rights groups opposed to the setting up of the nuclear reactor there.
There have been several meetings between Nuclear Power and Energy Agency (Nupea) officials, the residents and the local administration as part of discussions over the intended establishment of the plant.
The plant is set to be established in 2034 if all goes to plan which includes putting in place all the safety measures, according to Nupea.
The residents and environmental activists however remain unconvinced and still maintain there is greater risk to their health than the benefits they will get from the reactor.
Omido said they were shocked to learn that the area administration had quickly planned another baraza on the same day as their training and asked all residents to attend.
“On Wednesday evening, we received a call from the community that the area assistant county commissioner Precious Dama had called the community to mobilize a baraza on the same day as our training and therefore they sought to postpone our meeting,” Omido told the Star.
“We however informed the community that we could not do that since we had teams from Nairobi who had travelled for the event and therefore those keen on the ACC’s meeting should proceed and those that came to our meeting were welcome,” she added.
When they got to Uyombo on Thursday morning, they found police taking away all the chairs that had been brought and arranged in readiness for the meeting.
They had forced the chairs, public address system and the projector to be removed from the venue, according to Omido.
Opponents of nuclear power point to the threats they pose including health risks, accidents and environmental damage from uranium mining, processing and transport.
Uranium is radioactive and its mining requires a high level of safety measures because it can be destructive and toxic.
Airing their views during one of the meetings with Nupea officials in July, the residents said the ‘secrecy’ and half-truths with which the project is being planned worries them.
However, Nupea has maintained that they are putting all the safety measures in place before the establishment of the plant.
They said they cannot get approval for the plant from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) unless all the safety measures are put in place to protect the residents.
Nupea nuclear energy infrastructure development director Erick Ohaga said they intend to use the latest small modular reactors, which do not require huge space and that they will do all they can to ensure safety.
Nupea officials said they had identified Lamu, Mombasa, Turkana and Kisumu counties due to their proximity to vast water bodies.
A nuclear power plant requires a lot of water to cool the reactors.
Uyombo area is next to the beach, and Nupea said they will also set up a water desalination plant, which will eventually benefit the residents with clean and safe drinking water.
In August, Energy PS Alex Wachira told the residents in another meeting that the opposition to the project was mainly because of a lack of information and dialogue.
He accused Nupea of doing a shoddy job in creating awareness.
“When you see a beautiful lady, you don’t go to her and say ‘What is your name? I want to marry you! You first have to seduce her so she can gradually open up to you.
“And if she refuses the first time, you don’t give up. You continue trying every now and then and at every opportunity you get,” Wachira said.