We refer to an article that appeared in your headline edition of April 29 ÔÇô 05 May 2012 entitled “Botswana caught in politics of radioactive waste disposal.” We would like to point out to you that other than the fact that your story was biased, in that it never sought our views nor those of others it made reference to, it was also filled with a lot of inaccuracies and outright untruths.
From the onset, it is not true that the Department of Radiation Protection wants to set up a radioactive waste disposal facility as alleged. The truth is that we want to set up a radiation temporary storage facility. A temporary storage facility is one where radioactive materials that are no longer in use are stored temporarily before being taken to the countries where they originate. We neither have the capability nor any intentions to build a waste disposal site.
Your report further alleges that we are flouting international practice in site selection procedures. The reality is that we are in full compliance with international practice in the selection of the said site. Botswana as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in good standing is committed to the International Agreements, Treaties and Conventions that it has signed and ratified to advance peaceful use of nuclear technology for development.
As such, in the Pilikwe case, we have involved the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is the internationally acclaimed body when it comes to construction and management of radiation facilities in all Member States. IAEA experts have assessed our proposed site and are fully satisfied that we will not be in contravention of any law or procedure if we were to go ahead with the proposed project.
In fact, the IAEA encourages the construction of such facilities in all countries that do not have them like us for effective management of radioactive sources and the protection of the public and environment from possible effects of radiation exposure. Further, the Department of Environmental Affairs has also been fully involved in this project and has advised for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the proposed site to be carried out. That has been done and has confirmed that the proposed site will neither be a threat to the environment nor to any people in the vicinity.
The EIA report is a public document that is also available at the Pilikwe kgotla for all the Pilikwe community to read. The EIA report was also part of the requirements for the Ngwato landboard to assess the application submitted to it by the Ministry in the past few months. We also want to state that some of the members of the mentioned “Pilikwe Taskforce” contributed to the EIA. Their views were taken on board, but at the end of the day the consulting team looked at all issues and came to the conclusion that it will be in order for the Ministry, through the Department of Radiation Protection to go ahead with the project.
In addition to the EIA, a geotechnical assessment of the proposed site was also carried out and equally came to the conclusion that the site is strategically placed to house such a project.
Pertaining to allegations that we have not consulted on the proposed Pilikwe project, we want to state for record that we have made numerous consultation visits to the Pilikwe kgotla where we consulted and clarified issues raised by the community about the proposed project. It is also important to mention that even other nearby villages like Maape and Mhalapitsa were consulted on the proposed Pilikwe project. This started in 2007 and the last meeting we had at Pilikwe, which this time around was called by the Ngwato land board was on 30 March 2012.
It must also be stated that in this country the kgotla remains a central forum where the community converges for important events and has been used from time immemorial as a forum for consultations on all matters concerning the various communities in this country. We used this important forum in recognition of its strategic importance and being conscious of the fact that all those who wanted to attend would make such arrangements regardless of whether they stay in Pilikwe or not as many did, and as many always do in other parts of the country.
Our assessment as confirmed by the EIA report was that generally the people of Pilikwe were not opposed to the proposed project. We however, do acknowledge that as expected, not all people would support any proposed project for various reasons, which we appreciate and respect.
We further want to state at this juncture that in as far as we are concerned, the “Pilikwe Taskforce” referred to by your story is not a structure that has been officially brought to our attention as the legitimate representatives of the Pilikwe Community. We have made enquiries to the village leadership that comprises the chief, the VDC and land overseer, who have categorically stated to us that they have not mandated anyone other than themselves to represent them in this matter or any other. We therefore plead ignorance of the said taskforce.
We have however, in the past gave audience to some of them with the understanding that they are sons and daughters of Pilikwe who legitimately wanted to know more about proposed developments for their village. Our meeting with them in Gaborone was also following the advice from Minister Johnie Swartz after his address on Pilikwe residents where some had attended the consultation meeting and later requested for more engagement in this matter. We still remain open to explain further to anyone from Pilikwe or any other Motswana wanting to know more about our proposed radiation facility in Pilikwe. We would further want to assure the people of Pilikwe and Batswana in general that the proposed radiation facility is meant for the good of the country as a whole. Most developed and developing countries including our neighbours like South Africa and Tanzania do have such facilities. Under no circumstances could we on behalf of government propose to go ahead with a project that is not in the best interest of this country and its people.
With this intervention, Mr Editor, we are hopeful that we have shed some more light on this issue. On a final note, we demand that this article be given the same prominence that was given to your article, which we say was blatantly misinforming.
Principal Public Relations Officer
MINISTRY OF INFRASTRUCTURE,
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY