In the continuing efforts to boost the power situation in the country, the federal government is considering the nuclear energy option. This option, in addition to hydro, solar power, gas and coal currently in use, will certainly complement the energy mix in the country. In pursuance of this, the government has identified Oku Iboku in Itu Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom as the site for a nuclear energy plant.
But predictably, the plan has run into a storm of protests from the inhabitants of the area. Their reasons are understandable. Nuclear plants the world over, have a tendency to be problematic with lasting devastating consequences. The ones that quickly come to mind are the widely reported incidents of explosions at the nuclear energy processing plant in the town of Chernobyl in Ukraine in the defunct Soviet Union and the one at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, United States of America, the effects of which exacted a toll in lives and in the immediate environments where the incidents occurred. People have therefore come to be wary of having nuclear power plants established in their neighbourhoods.
Even without incidents such as occurred in Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, nuclear plants by the inescapable radiation emanating from their processing units affect the air, water and environment of the immediate area of their operation. That is why as a rule, nuclear power plants are subjected to the most stringent regulations on the safety of operations within the plant and in the vicinity of the plant. It is imperative therefore to imbibe the lessons of the two incidents with respect to the proposed nuclear plant in Oku Iboku.
One of the most important and necessary safety requirements of a nuclear plant is the need for an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). This involves the scientific assessment of the air, water, soil, flora and fauna of the area where the plant will be cited. Also, an important component of this exercise is the social mitigation aspect which must include the way of life and livelihoods of the people, their social structures, tradition and culture, occupations, health and amenities available in the area. This is with a view to determining how the project will affect their lives and how to provide necessary relief and succour as a result of possible disruption consequent upon the citing of the plant in their neighbourhood.
The EIA should not just be done before the commencement of the project but should be continuous and measurable even after the project is up and running. This is to ensure pro-active vigilance and application of necessary measures to prevent not just untoward technical incidents but also to mitigate any social and environmental issues that may come up in the course of the plant’s operation.
As regards Itu nuclear power plant, we note that the stakeholders, comprising the community, Itu Local Government, Akwa Ibom State government as well as the federal government are in talks on the need to look at the salient issues pertaining to the citing of the nuclear plant in the area. We particularly note that the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Ita Inang, who himself is an indigene of the state, recognised the demand of the people of Oku Iboku for an environmental assessment impact of the plant. In this regard, we recommend strongly that the people of the area through their representatives must not only be included in this exercise, but their views must be taken into account. There must be provisions to include their positions on how the plant will be run and the reliefs and amelioration that is due to them for agreeing to the project been cited in their area.
Aside from the environmental impact assessment, government at the local, state and federal levels must enter into constructive dialogue with the people of Oku Iboku, comprising their community leaders, women groups, youth and professionals from the area, to explain the reasons for choosing their community for this project and get their buy-in.
One of the major reasons why projects run into problems in this country is the failure to do due diligence in involving stakeholders in the process of carrying out such projects. As a result, the country is littered with projects that are either uncompleted or not functioning to the purpose intended after huge sums of money had been committed.
On the proposed nuclear plant in Oku Iboku, which comes with potential hazards to lives and the environment, utmost care must be taken to ensure that all the necessary diligence is done for the project to properly take off.