Heritage

Inside Kenyan laws governing nuclear

powerplant

Handle plans to halt IPP pacts with care. PHOTO | AFP

The Chernobyl Disaster of 1986 had far-reaching effects on people and the environment. The cause of the accident was attributed to a defective nuclear reactor design coupled with untrained staff. The result was an explosion that caused the discharge of radioactive waste into the environment.

At the time of the accident, two deaths were reported but over the next months, several deaths were reported. The accident endangered the health of thousands of other people and caused great damage to the environment.

Many pine trees from the Red Forest died and many people were evacuated from the surrounding areas and resettled.

Thirty-six years later nuclear energy and technology is increasing. Statistics show that there are about 450 nuclear reactors in the world and about 10per cent of electricity is produced through nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy has several scientific uses including electricity, space exploration and medical usage. It is a source of clean energy if well managed.

Africa has one major nuclear reactor in South Africa. Kenya has announced plans to supplement energy sources through nuclear energy according to Vision 2030 and other literature.

Kenya hopes to build a nuclear power plant in 2027 at a site to be confirmed. Some sites that have been proposed include a site along River Tana.

According to international best practices, before nuclear power plants can be set up, a country ought to have adequate legislative and regulatory framework to provide strict compliance mechanisms for operators.

Such laws serve to protect people and the environment. The laws would provide very strict compliance checks and enforcement mechanisms to ensure that the lives of people, health and environmental safety are not compromised.

Kenya has been gradually undertaking regulatory reforms on nuclear energy and radioactive substances. In 2019, Kenya enacted the Nuclear Regulatory Act that also sets up the regulatory authority that is, Kenya Nuclear Regulatory Authority (KNRA).

The law extensively governs nuclear and radioactive usage in Kenya and provides strict compliance measures. The authority has been given a wide mandate to enforce the law.

Similarly, in 2019, the Nuclear Power & Energy Agency (NUPEA) was set up under the Energy Act.

In so far as the environment is concerned the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) has a mandate to conduct environmental impact assessments in so far as nuclear power projects are concerned.

This year, the KNRA has published nine sets of draft regulations to regulate various usages of nuclear and radioactive usage. These range from emergency responses, radioactive waste management and consumer protection.

In general, the regulations provide for the prevention, management, safety and responsible usage of radioactive items. The draft regulations mostly protect human beings from harmful effects. Indeed, most of the regulations have been proposed by the Cabinet Secretary Of Health.

I am however concerned that little mention has been made on environmental protection. Currently, environmental oversight is done by Nema. Before a nuclear power plant can be set up in Kenya Nema would have to give its nod after an environmental impact assessment is done.

Given that there is a nuclear regulator in existence some feel that there would be a duplication of roles involving KNRA and Nema. In the US the nuclear regulator conducts the environmental assessment for nuclear power projects while in some other places, both regulators are involved.

My major concern is the legislative gap in so far as protection of the environment is concerned. We need regulations that will highlight mechanisms of environmental protection in so far as nuclear and radioactive usage is concerned. I hope we will see these regulations soon.