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Environmental Impact for Nuclear Power Plant in Uganda

Introduction

Environmental impact assessment is a study done in a particular area to determine the extent of positive and negative impacts caused to the environment by a particular project. It involves natural, social and economic aspects surrounding the environment. The reason behind the assessment is to sensitize decision makers of impending impacts of the projects that they want to undertake. Environmental impact statement is a document required by an umbrella environmental body in a particular country before decision makers come up with a decision to continue with a particular project (Morris & Therivel 2001).

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The document serves as a tool for decision making in that it is used to weigh between the magnitude of both positive and negative impacts of a particular project. If the negative impacts outweigh the positive impacts, the project should not be allowed to develop. This document also list one or more alternatives that can be chosen as a trade off for the actions described in its statement.

Environmental agencies are established in a country to promote informed decision making. Their responsibility is to ensure that they provide comprehensive information related to significant environmental impacts. Therefore, decision makers are provided with appropriate information concerning the ensuing environmental impacts before they proceed with their projects (Glasson, Therivel & Chadwick, 2005).

This paper describes a hypothetical project that can be undertaken in Uganda which is an east African country. Many African countries are grappling with energy issues. The authorities concerned are currently involved in looking into more effective and efficient means of obtaining energy. One of the options they are looking into is nuclear power. Not enough has been done currently but reports indicate extensive work is underway in Kenya which is a neighboring state. This paper mainly explores into the factors that need to be considered before putting up a nuclear power plant in Uganda.

Justification of the project

The justifications of putting up a nuclear power plant in Uganda are the high energy demands and the need for a more efficient source of power. Although they are known to be potentially dangerous, modern nuclear power plants are more efficient than in the past. If new technology is going to be used, the energy will be even more reliable and safer since modern plants break down quite infrequently (Want to know it 2011). This is one of the reasons why more and more Asian countries are turning into nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy is also known to reduce greenhouse gas emission. Although this issue is quite contentious, many nuclear scientists argue that nuclear power is much cleaner than fossil fuel. This is because there is no combustion that produces carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere. However, the use of fossil fuel still gains its usage in nuclear power plants (Want to know it, 2011). The running costs of nuclear power plants are favorably lower compared to other energy sources. Nuclear power plants need small amounts of radioactive substances to produce large amounts of energy. Thus, if the cost of radioactive substance such as uranium doubles, the cost of energy will increase with a small fraction.

Diagram of a nuclear power plant.
Figure 1: Diagram of a nuclear power plant.

The diagram above shows the relative emission of greenhouse gases by a nuclear power plant. Greenhouse emission is much more reduced in nuclear power plants compared to fossil fuel.

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The other justification of this project is that nuclear energy reduces overdependence on foreign oils and natural gas. The project is important because many African nations still rely a lot on fossil fuel. The price of foreign oils and gas is very volatile and thus, can change very quickly depending on the economic and political situations in the oil producing countries. This cost is later transferred to the consumer in terms of increased electricity bills. This means that building nuclear power plants in Uganda will promote energy independence. Also, nuclear wastes can be disposed of in the underground, although the issue is still debatable (Want to know it, 2011).

There are also other reasons that drive interests in nuclear plants. They include price stability and support for nuclear energy. From the preceding discussion, excellent performance of modern nuclear power plants causes them to become more popular than other energy sources. The modern nuclear power plants are safer, more reliable and more affordable. For instance, a survey into nuclear power plants in western nations indicates that there is consistently high safety performance in these plants (NEI 2009). The support for nuclear energy by a section of scientists in most western countries is also believed that it can influence construction of nuclear power plants in not only Uganda but also in many other African nations.

Procedure of environmental impact assessment

Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) expands environmental impact assessment (EIA) from projects to policies, plans and programs (PPPs). In the contemporary global society, EIAs have been generally used for individual projects. Given that establishing a nuclear power plant can be done by the private sector, EIA of such plants needs to follow laid down procedures in order to synchronize its mode of operation with its competitors (Glasson, Therivel & Chadwi 2005).

Although individuals can formulate their own EIA, the assessment must follow a laid down procedure. First of all, the initial stages are involved with screening of the project. Thus the first steps involve a list of activities such as scoping and description of the project. Actions of development alternative actions are also included in the first step. The second stage involves prediction of impacts, evaluation and assessment of significance of impacts and the identification of mitigation measures.

The third stage involves presentation of findings in the environmental impact statement, a review of the EIS and then follows the decision making process. The fourth stage is the stage of post-decision monitoring and audit of predictions, and mitigation measures. The first three stages involve a lot of public consultation and participation. For instance, public participation can be useful at most stages of the process. Monitoring systems should relate to measures that are established in the beginning of the project and the baseline description (Glasson, Therivel & Chadwi 2005).

The data mart below shows a systematic environmental impact assessment of any viable proposed project.

A data mart for environmental impact assessment.
Figure 2: A data mart for environmental impact assessment.

Licensing of the project

The process of licensing new nuclear power plants should be taken with care to prevent any mishaps that may occur during its construction and operations. The power plants need to be competitive in the market since that is the essence of their existence. Thus, the operators of the nuclear power plant must demonstrate the capacity to supply power at fair enough prices (American Nuclear Power Plants, 2005).

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The prices should thus be competitive such that they are either comparable to or less than those of their competitors who are already in the market. There should be minimum or no delays in construction of a nuclear power plant. This is because construction of a nuclear power plant is capital intensive. The delays can cause the plant developers to be exposed to financial risks and high interest rates especially if there are some uncertainties at any time during the commissioning of the plant construction. It is therefore very important to consider predictability and timelines in the licensing and construction phases. This will eliminate the uncertainties during its construction and will also encourage construction of more nuclear power plants.

It is very important for the government and other relevant authorities to establish policies through an energy agency that can oversee the process of licensing. These policies should be able to take into account the certainty and predictability of the licensing process so that the construction of any nuclear plant should not cause any issue related to public health and also to ensure that their safety is maintained.

The policies here should also be able to provide the public with enough confidence. The licensing procedure should also be able to minimize the economic risks that future nuclear power plants owners would face and to demonstrate efficiency and predictability for efficient monitoring (American Nuclear Power Plants, 2005). In order to make the process less costly in terms of finances and time, the policy framework should also include provisions that they give out a combined license for both construction and operation of the new nuclear power plant.

Environmental impacts of the project

The advantages of establishing nuclear power plants have been discussed in the preceding pagers of this paper. Although they appear much juicy, their effectiveness will always depend on several factors that need to be considered in order to make them function while at the same time causing minimum disturbance to the environment.

Factors to be considered include Radioactive wastes, Radioactive gases and effluents, Waste streams, Water usage, Greenhouse gas emission, Risk of cancer, Comparison to coal-fired generation, and Environmental effects of accidents many of which pose as major disadvantages of putting up a nuclear power plant. In order to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment of such a project, there are several questions, many questions of concern need to be addressed. The location of the nuclear power plant in relation to the general population is one of the most important factors to consider.

The approach

In order to put up a nuclear power plant in Uganda, there are four factors to consider. They include scaling and scoping whereby determination of geographical and other boundaries is done as well as the preliminary assessment of the project (Petts 1999). A detailed assessment of the project’s impacts is also taken into consideration. Causal chain analysis which includes risk evaluations and monitoring programs as well as the management policy options analysis. Last but not least is recommendation of the project.

Environmental studies and reports for this project must cover the general information of the area, which includes the location, vegetation, climate, settlement, infrastructure, and exploration licenses. The other requirement is information on the geology and mineralogy of the radioactive deposits (in this case uranium), which should also include ore reserve estimates. Mining and mineral processing methods report should include type of hazardous wastes and methods of disposal. A report of the anticipation of the environmental impact of the activity and mitigation steps should include the impacts of the project on the displacement and compensation of the existing settlement, the effect of the activity and resultant hazardous wastes on human health and the environment, mitigation measures and economic justification (Carroll, Turpin 2002).

Criteria for assessment

The criteria for assessment should follow certain procedures that enumerate factors to be considered and the corresponding check list (Gilpin, 1995). The following is the criteria for an environmental impact assessment before putting up a nuclear power facility. The table shows a good example of a checklist that can act as a guide to evaluating the EIA of this project.

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Table 1: Pre-environmental site selection.

QUESTIONS YES NO
Is the water supply sufficient all year long?
Is the water supply of good quality?
Are there sufficient raw material resources in this area?
Is a sustainable management of these resources possible?
Are there resources sensitive to the proposed exploitation scheme?
Are there threatened species in this area?
Are there sensitive biotopes like rain forest, mangrove, coastal zone, and wetland?
Is the transport infrastructure sufficiently developed?
If no, is there negative impact linked with the transportation framework to be built?
Is the energy supply assured?
If no, will the energy supply have negative impact?
Will the plant emissions have negative impact on the environment?
Are there affected groups?
Will the project destroy important man made patrimony?
Does the project imply resettlements?
If yes, are there sufficient land resources in the area to allow a correct resettlement?
Are there particular risks attached with this area?
Is there positive impact of the project in the area? (to detail)
Other (to be mentioned)?

The nature of the environment

The area must be investigated whether it is a part of the conservation area or if it is under a treaty. This includes determination whether it is a national park, conservation park, wilderness area or world heritage listing. If the area is in an existing or potentially environmentally significant area, then factors such as geomorphologic characteristic and ecological systems must be considered. Geomorphologic characteristics include wetlands, lakes, coastline dunes, islands, alpine areas, desert areas and karsts areas.

Ecological systems include flora and fauna communities which are uncommon, threatened or endangered, mangroves, environmentally sensitive marine localities, salt marshes, coral and sea grass meadows, rainforests, desert communities, urban bush lands and wildlife corridor. The EIA should also state if the area is vulnerable to major natural or induced hazards such as erosion, earthquakes, salinization, bushfire, flood or cyclone and catchment for groundwater. It should also investigate whether the area is a personal property area. Also, whether the project involves a renewable or a non renewable resource must be known (DataBase Answers Ltd, 2009).

Potential impacts of proposal

The EIA should investigate if construction of the proposed nuclear power plant poses the risk of causing significant changes to the environment. Operations and decommissioning of the proposal also should not cause these changes to the receiving environment. Thus physical factors to be investigated should include if there could be significant land disturbance, erosion, subsidence and instability, alteration of water courses and drainage patterns, effects on quantity, quality or availability of groundwater. The likelihood of salinization, microclimatic effects and excavation, dredging and reclamation of a mine should also be included in the assessment (Gilpin, 1995).

Biological factors include a report on whether the project threatens biodiversity, threatens maintenance of ecological processes, involves extensive clearing, burning or modification of vegetation or threatens ecological processes or life support systems. Displacement of fauna, the risk of fire and the change of hydrological regime are also important points to factor into this assessment.

Other factors worth consideration include the land use, resource use, community infrastructure, heritage and aesthetics. Thus, major changes of land use, substantial change to the economic value of land and water and whether or not the project may limit use by other users or place increased demands on natural resources in short supply must also be investigated. The resource use assessment should include whether or not the project involves foregoing the development of alternative uses of a natural resource.

Population movement, demographic structure of a community, whether or not the project will cause economic stability of the community and if the project will bring about change in local social organization are also important factors to consider. Infrastructural factors include a significance increase in the demand on services and infrastructure such as roads, waste management, water drainage and education and health services. Heritage factors include whether or not the project will cause adverse effects on local communities by restricting access to land, disturbing sacred sites or causing changes to lifestyles or affecting other cultural values. Aesthetic components include whether or not the project will cause degradation of scenic amenities, major illumination or reflecting impacts (FAO corporate document repository, 1996).

Health impacts of the project

Factors to be considered here include air, water, wastes, hazards, noise factors among others. Releases of gases which contribute to greenhouse effects are considered in this assessment. The project should also be investigated if it may cause deterioration of water supplies and water quality, or if it will cause damage to marine environment. Disposal of industrial wastes and that of spoil or process wastes should be in a way that does not cause any negative impacts to the environment. Hazards due to the use, storage, disposal or transportation of radioactive material should be examined. Other factors include if a situation may arise that will cause an accidental release or cause cumulative impacts (Morris & Therivel, 2001).

The degree in which the environment can cope with change

This refers to the intensity of the impacts the project will cause to the receiving environment. The receiving environment should not suffer impacts that will result to its irreversible change. A statement of emergency that details how the project will deal with accident issues is also very important. Thus, response mechanism, viability and competitiveness of existing neighborhood development and intergenerational equities must be in place.

How confidently the impacts will be predicted

This means that developers should have the highest level of knowledge of the adaptability of the prevailing ecosystem to the change of environment. This means that there should be adequacy of baseline data and also comparable situations that are relevant. The project design and technology should be intensive and comprehensive enough to enable the determination of the effects. Thus there should be a high degree of accuracy desired and achievable. The prevalent community standards on land utilizations and resources management should only improve.

Presence of a policy framework

The project proposal should be synchronous with existing partitioning of the long term policy framework of the area. Other statutory approval processes exist to effectively aid in examining and analyzing project impacts. Thus the level of investigation and documentation should be high. There should also be by-laws and standard codes to properly guide and help in managing operations. Therefore, legislative powers should require unsafe situations to be immediately rectified (Wathern 1998).

Degree of public interest

This means that the proposal must not be controversial to the community. The culture and lifestyle of the community should not be highly affected. The proposal should not result in iniquities between factions of the community. This requires that there must be evidence of existing public interest and perceived environmental risks (Morris-Saunders & Arts, 2004).

Conclusion

Environmental impact assessment is a study done in a particular area to determine the extent of positive and negative impacts caused to the environment by a particular project. It involves natural, social and economic aspects surrounding the environment. Nuclear energy is known to reduce greenhouse gas emission because it does not burn excessive fossil fuel. Although this issue is quite contentious, many nuclear scientists argue that nuclear power is much cleaner than fossil fuel.

The process of licensing new nuclear power plants should be taken with care to prevent any mishaps that may occur during its construction and operations. The criteria for assessment should follow certain procedures that enumerate factors to be considered and their corresponding check list. The criteria include determining factors such as character of receiving environment and the potential impacts of the proposal. Other factors include the ability of the environments to cope with change, the degree of confidence in which the impacts can be predicted and the presence of planning, policy framework and other statutory decision making process. The popularity of the project to the public is also a factor that must be examined.

Reference List

American Nuclear Power Plants (2005). Licensing new nuclear power plants. Web.

Carroll, B. & Turpin, T. (2002). Environmental Impact assessment handbook: a practical guide for planners, developers and communities. London: Thomas Telford Publishing.

DataBase Answers Ltd. (2009). Data Mart for Environmental Impact Assessment. Web.

FAO corporate document repository (1996). Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Auditing in the Pulp and Paper Industry. Web.

Gilpin, A. (1995). Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): cutting edge for the twenty first century. Cambridge: The press syndicate of the University of Cambridge.

Glasson, J., Therivel, R. & Chadwi, A. (2005). Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment. Ed. 3, New York: Routledge.

Morris, P. & Therivel, R. (2001). Methods of Environmental Impact Assessment. Ed. 2. London: Spon Press.

Morris-Saunders, A. & Arts, J. (2004). Assessing Impact: handbook of EIA and SEA follow-up. London: Earthscan.

NEI (2009). Licensing new nuclear power plants. Web.

Petts, J. (1999). Handbook of environmental Impact Assessment: Environmental Impact Assessment in Practice, Impacts and Limitations, Vol.2. Oxford: Blackwell Sciences.

Schwartz, A. (2010). Is Power Now Cheaper Than Nuclear Energy? Web.

Want to know it (2011). Advantages of nuclear power plant. Web.

Wathern, P. (1998). Environmental Impact Assessment: theory and practice. London: Routledge.

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