On 26th April 1986, a major accident occurred in Chernobyl and is estimated to have killed about 30,000 people through radiation related health complications (http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/nuclear/nomorechernobyls/what-happened-in-chernobyl/) . Everything looked fine until a major explosion occurred that released huge levels of emission which was hard to contain for 10 days. Imagine a situation where scientists are unable to handle an incident for 240 hours leaving humanity to the mercy of the unknown.
What has happened since then globally? Have we had a reduction in nuclear plants? Have we become more careful? Are there other developments that are happening globally outside the realm of nuclear energy activities that could subject our people to health and life risks?
Explosions that could release pollutants to the atmosphere and to people can occur from diverse economic activities. There are chemical processing industries scattered all over the country, manufacturing many crucial products needed for crop and animal health such as fertilizers, drugs, industrial chemicals. Certainly we cannot condemn the contribution of these establishments to socio-economic development of our country. What we need to consider is safety at local and regional level.
A quick look at Kenyan situation regarding industrial safety gives us some reassurances. The government has put in place several initiatives to ensure safety of people to avoid Chernobyl type of accidents.
New establishments such as factories are expected to undertake environmental impact assessments (EIA). The EIA reports present a risk assessment of the entire infrastructural development, operations and decommissioning after end of life of the factory. Besides acquiring the EIA license, these facilities are expected to undertake an Environmental Audit every year to show levels of compliance to EIA license. In addition, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) inspectors visit these facilities at least once every year to confirm compliance to the EIA license conditions.
The facilities are also expected to demonstrate proper waste handling. For solid waste, they should show evidence of operating a licensed waste facility or procurement of a competent NEMA licensed waste handler. The same applies for the liquid waste.
Hence, the key question begging for an answer “Is Kenya safe from Chernobyl type of explosions?” As an expert, I can say yes. The safeguards are in place. However any safeguards are as good as the people implementing them. Hence there is need for those facilities under the regulations cited above to ensure that they remain compliant to their environmental license commitments.
We have seen media reports that Kenya is determined to harness nuclear energy to power our economic development. The Chernobyl disaster is still fresh in peoples mind and many Kenyans are expected to express reservations when the project is finally proposed. However, the mechanisms in place plus others that may be developed on needs basis should ensure our country is safe.