Monday, September 28, 2020

The Radioactive Waste Facility at Pilikwe ÔÇô A Response

This message has been compiled by concerned members of Pilikwe community in relation to the above subject.

Sometime in the middle of August 2009, the Department of Radiation Protection issued a press statement seeking to dispel possible public concerns raised with regards to the proposed Radioactive Waste Storage Facility at Pilikwe. We note with interest the department’s sudden change of project title from Radiation Waste Storage Facility to ‘Radiation Facility’.
The public statement referred to warrants a response of the same publicity from those who have concerns about the project for two reasons.

Firstly, members of the community have asked pertinent questions to the project proponents at Kgotla meetings and through written submissions and to date no dialogue has been entertained. Also, now that the department has put the matter in the public realm of discourse, it is wise that those with issues about the project raise them at the same level to avoid misrepresentation.

Whilst we acknowledge the need for such a facility in-country, our concern is about the decision processes that led to Pilikwe being fingered as the (only) target host village. The gist of our opposition to the project is the planning process and criteria for site selection undertaken from project conceptualisation to date. It is a process that is devoid of any methodical prudence.

No Feasibility study was undertaken, listing characteristics of the most suitable location in the country and conducting a thorough scoring exercise of potential sites. Hence reasons for choosing Pilikwe keep changing such as the recent strange one of closeness to BIUST. We wonder if BIUST was part of the location identification exercise, is radioactive technology in their curriculum and if the university needs the proposed facility badly then why not locate it adjacent to the campus?

The other point recently raised was that Pilikwe was chosen because of her proximity to the Martin’s Drift Road. We wish to put it across to the Department of Radiation that there are other villages and towns which are much closer to that road than Pilikwe.

Detailed designs for the proposed facility are being done even before the approval of the Environmental Impact Assessment. What if the EIA report is rejected on the basis of unsuitable location, or what if the EIA report itself recommends against the project location? We come to the conclusion that the feigned consultation exercise undertaken by the project consultants at Pilikwe was a rubberstamping exercise that does not inform the design and this conduct we find somewhat dishonest and arrogant towards the community.

Consultation with Pilikwe community was largely inadequate and no agreement whatsoever was reached at the two meetings held at the Kgotla. Hence we expect more interaction between the developer and the community in a forum that will be genuine, focussed, transparent and effective.

We are deeply concerned about statements that purport that residents of Pilikwe and surrounding villages will get employed during construction of the facility. That is a deliberate creation of false hope directed at the community, particularly that we are aware the actual proposed infrastructure development will be relatively small in scale (10mx10m storage building with a small office-taken from project TOR). Surely the construction of a development of that scale can not have a significant economic employment impact on the communities of Pilikwe and surrounding villages, particularly looking at the skills requirement for that kind of facility!

To dangle a carrot before the Pilikwe community by expressing possible bituminising of the Pilikwe-Radisele road, as a result of the facility, as mentioned in their report, without equally mentioning the concomitant dangers posed by the same facility, is a sure sign of dishonest “consultation” or misinformation at the very least. We the concerned residents of Pilikwe strongly object to this form of engagement. The Pilikwe-Radisele road will, and can be developed without the Radiation Waste facility.

Finally, we believe that as part of the community we have a social responsibility to hold our government departments accountable and request honest and transparent dialogue on issues of concern. We trust going forward the Department of Radiation Protection will begin to address specific issues we have raised and review project process appropriately.

Yours truly,

Kagiso Tshukudu and Marx Garekwe.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.