By Philip Wafula & Sam Caleb Opio
Over 25,000 locals across ten Villages in Buyende District are to be displaced as the long-awaited nuclear plant project kicks off.
The Villages include; Kasaato, Buyanja ‘B’, Buyanja’ A’, Nawansaso, Butayunjwa, Kabalongo, Kiiga, Kyankoole, Kibaale, and Nakawa, all in Buyanja sub-county,
Mr Solomon Muyita, the communications officer in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, says Buyende, with its robust geographical and environmental credentials, emerged the best out of 20 Districts in Uganda to host this monumental project following intensive studies since 2016.
Some of the studies include; meticulous assessment undertaken by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review Mission done in December 2021, and discussions at the Africa Nuclear Business Platform Conference in March 2023.
“Buyende was chosen from 20 competing Districts because of its central location, low population density, land availability, and many water sources from Lake Kyoga for nuclear reactors among others,” Mr Muyita said in an interview.
It emerged during an engagement meeting held last week that at least 25,000 residents are going to be displaced, prompting the Buyanja LC3 chairman, Mr David Semale, to express fear of how the locals will cope with the new localities.
According to Mr Semale, most of the locals are predominantly fishermen and livestock farmers who were born and raised near the River Nile and Lake Kyoga shoreline, noting that coping with the new areas shall be a challenge.
Ms Hope Senkamba, the District councilor representing Buyanja sub-county and Bukungu town council, says they are set to lose their electorate due to the looming mass exodus.
She said: “Losing 25,000 voters is a big blow. Most of them will immigrate to distant areas, while women who look after their families in the absence of their husbands will be the worst hit.”
Ms Ruth Kawendeke, the female councilor representing Buyanja Parish in the Buyanja LC3 Council, expressed fear that upon being compensated, husbands will find new partners, which will breed domestic violence.
Mr Ronald Ssekyanzi, the Kasaato LC1 chairperson, said his people have mixed feelings over the project because the compensation seems to be looking at only the land and property, forgetting the “livelihood and disturbance aspect”.
“Our people have a livelihood here, including; fishing, sand, local herbs/medicine source at the Kasaato Hill; so, it is necessary that the government seriously looks into these areas when compensating us,” he said.
However, the State Minister for Minerals, Mr Peter Lokeris, who earlier held an engagement meeting with District and local leaders on the preparatory activities for the nuclear power plant’s land acquisition and resettlement action plan, urged the public to look beyond compensation benefits.
He instead implored them to prepare themselves and remember that this endeavor is not just for them but for generations to come.
“To achieve Vision 2040 targets, the country needs to venture beyond current capabilities, and needs a huge leap to explore nuclear power generation,” Mr Lokeris said.
According to Mr Lokeris, the nuclear plant to be constructed at Kasaato Hill will not only provide 2,000 jobs, but also address the challenge of Uganda’s endless power outages.
“Vision 2040 needs an installed capacity of 52,841 megawatts and with the current trajectory, even if we exploited every of water, every sunray and every gust of wind, we shall still fall short, hence the need for the transformative potential of nuclear energy that will contribute 24,000 megawatts,” he added.
Uganda is positioning itself to start manufacturing nuclear energy by 2031 to expand its electricity generation capacity, with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) clearing the first phase of nuclear power production in May 2022.
President Museveni has stressed that Uganda would use its uranium deposits to develop energy to supplement the current inadequate capacity of hydro and geothermal power.
Currently, atomic energy is widely used in industrial, medical, and research in educational institutions.