Nuclear plants public hearing process termed ‘farce’

Published April 24, 2015
Physicist Dr Abdul Hameed Nayyar speaks at a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Thursday.—White Star
Physicist Dr Abdul Hameed Nayyar speaks at a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Thursday.—White Star

KARACHI: The Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) came under severe criticism at a press conference on Thursday at the Karachi Press Club where speakers highlighted their concerns on the proposed nuclear power plants and described the entire process of holding a public hearing on the project’s Environment Impact Assessment Report (EIA) as farce.

Terming Sepa’s attitude highly irresponsible, the speakers demanded that the agency give at least three months to the public to go through a highly technical and lengthy EIA report and hold the public hearing of the EIA report at a place conveniently accessible to the public.

Read: PAEC finally plans public hearing on nuclear power plants

They also accused Sepa of facilitating the federal government in building the project in Karachi instead of doing its job of protecting the city’s environment and safeguarding public interests. The project (K-2 and K-3) is to be built by a Chinese company while a government agency involved in the project is the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission.

“It’s extremely disturbing that Sepa is running its affairs in a manner that is contrary to the letter and spirit of its own regulations. This is indicated by its way of dealing with the EIA of the nuclear power plants, a major project that could potentially pose grave risks to citizens and the environment of Karachi,” said Dr A. H. Nayyar, a physicist and nuclear activist.

Also read: Karachi's citizens fear 'nuclear nightmare'

Dr Nayyar, along with other speakers, slammed Sepa for giving insufficient time to concerned citizens to go through a 2,400-page technical EIA report and prepare themselves for the public hearing.

“In a public notice that appeared in newspapers on April 11, Sepa has asked the public to file comments by April 27 and is holding the public hearing the same day. The 16-day review time is too short even for experts, let alone a common citizen to understand the report and give comments on it,” he said.

Contrary to past practices, he said, Sepa was holding the public hearing on the EIA not at a public place or a place easily accessible to the public, but rather on the highly-restricted premises of Kanupp at Hawkesbay. “That turns the hearing exercise into a farce,” he said.

Amber Alibhai representing the Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment said that the fact that the advertisement on the public hearing was published in only two newspapers with limited circulation showed that Sepa had made a deliberate attempt to ensure that few people could participate in the public hearing.

Also read: Nuclear plants project: Certain facts not being made public for strategic reasons, SHC told

“Many people are not even aware that public hearing is being held at the end of this month. Our organisation had earlier sent a letter to Sepa stating that the review period for the EIA report is insufficient and it should be extended for at least three months, but we haven’t received any reply yet,” she said, adding that the EIA report should have been vetted by the agency first before seeking public comments.

Flaws in EIA report

Speakers pointed out that under the provincial law an advertisement for the public hearing was required to be printed in widely circuited national newspapers. They also said that the country’s nuclear establishment claimed to be following the practices of the International Atomic Energy Commission and the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. However, the latter organisation took six months to a year in reviewing an EIA of new power plant.

According to Dr Nayyar, the project’s close proximity to the city is a potential threat to people’s lives in case of a disaster like the one that struck Chernobyl (Ukraine earlier part of the former Soviet Union) and Fukushima (Japan) and, hence, the impact of a nuclear power plant needs to be studied very carefully. Under international practices, experts prepare plans for worst case scenarios no matter how safe the design and manufacturing of the nuclear power plant is.

“However, there is no plan for emergency situations in the report that underestimates Karachi’s population,” he asked.

The radiation risks, he said, were also heightened by the fact that the wind blew from Kanupp to Karachi most part of the year, as had been mentioned in the report that dismissed any threat to the environment.

There was also concern that the EIA report dealt with the impact of only one reactor, rather it should have studied the cumulative impact of four reactors (also part of the project) of 1,100 megawatts each.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2015

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