Environmental licence for SKA phase one gets green light

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The SKA is not a single telescope, but a collection of telescopes, called an array, to be spread over long distances.
The SKA is not a single telescope, but a collection of telescopes, called an array, to be spread over long distances.

The Integrated Environmental Management Plan (IEMP), which gives licence to construct phase one of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), has been adopted.

This is according to the Department of Science and Technology (DST), which confirmed environmental affairs minister Nomvula Mokonyane gazetted the IEMP.

In terms of SKA development, the environmental affairs department, together with the DST and the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, consulted communities from towns surrounding the project site in the Northern Cape, and the IEMP is part of that procedure.

The IEMP covers the environmental principles to be followed in the construction and operation of SKA phase one, the environmental monitoring and control activities to be undertaken, as well as the long-term research monitoring programmes to be implemented at the SKA site.

This is the first time an environmental instrument of this kind has been adopted at national level in SA, reveals the DST.

"The department is very pleased with the conclusion of this process that has granted the environmental licence for the construction of SKA phase one to proceed in the Northern Cape," says the DST's acting chief director for astronomy, Takalani Nemaungani.

"I would like to thank these communities and the municipalities, as well as the stakeholders in various sectors affected by the project, for actively participating in the meetings and workshop held by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), who served as the facilitators," he adds.

The SKA project is an international effort to build the world's largest radio telescope, led by the SKA Organisation. It will be built in two main phases in SA and Australia, with a later expansion in both countries and into other African countries.

The CSIR was appointed to undertake the environmental assessment for SKA phase one. The study, which took three years to complete, covered an area of approximately 628 200 hectares in the Karoo.

The study, states the department, assessed the impacts the construction and operation of phase one of the SKA project might have on local agriculture, heritage, archaeology, visual landscape, terrestrial ecology and biodiversity, as well as local socio-economic aspects.

Further aspects of sensitivity in terms of aviation, defence, telecommunications, weather services, mining, water use, waste management, noise and traffic effects were also investigated.

Dr Rob Adam, MD of the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, says: "The development of the IEMP for the first phase of the SKA, and the gazetting of its adoption by minister Mokonyane, is yet another milestone towards the realisation of the SKA mid-frequency array in South Africa."

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