Today, one year ago on 12 March 2011, the world of nuclear energy came to a very abrupt, unexpected halt. What was thought to be impossible – happened. The Fukushima nuclear reactors was not built to withstand the 9.0 earthquake that hit Japan. The earthquake and resulting tsunami caused major and permanent nuclear radiation impacts. The radioactive cloud resulting from the disaster was by no means a localised impact – following the disaster, the radioactive particles fallout gradually started to spread across the globe. Scientists reported that large amounts of radiation spread to North America and Europe.
One year after this nuclear disaster, the South African government is set on nuclear energy as a major solution for the country’s precarious energy supply situation. But, is this a wise decision? Environmentally, economically and socially speaking? South Africa seems to be an exception; reasoning different to the current global nuclear energy movement. On 8 March 2012, Reuters reported that South Africa will attempt a tender for one of the world’s biggest nuclear power deals. Some reports say South Africa might just rescue the nuclear energy industry.
Following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, a few countries (mostly developed countries that is), responded to the disaster by turning nuclear policies around, considerably. May 2011 saw Germany announcing a nuclear energy reversal programme, which will close down the country’s 17 nuclear reactors within the next ten years, as well as an immediate closure of eight of its nuclear reactors. It is most likely that Germany will replace their current nuclear energy components with alternative and sustainable energy sources. On the same trend, the citizens of Italy declared voted for a nuclear-free zone…other countries such as Switzerland and Spain have set official bans on construction of new reactors. Even Japan has officially stated that it is in process of reducing its reliance on nuclear energy. The official list of countries against nuclear energy include: Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway. No Africa on this list. So, what exactly, is South Africa’s motivation for bidding for the world’s biggest ever nuclear reactor plant?
The country’s energy demand is in unbalance to its drive for development. The government is dedicated to expanding the mining sector, which is an energy-hunger industry, sapping energy at a rate that the country struggles to meet. South Africa is developing at a fair pace, with the manufacturing industry also in dire need for energy to continue its path of socio-economic development for the country. South Africans are all too familiar with electricity load shedding – planned power outages – particularly during winter months. However, internationally, electricity load shedding is the least promoted solution for electricity supply shortages.
Up to a quarter of South Africa’s population is unemployed. The government sees the nuclear industry as a potentially contributing to resolving the unemployment struggle.
South Africa is rich in coal deposits, but the main coal reserves are concentrated in the corners of the country, and not evenly distributed across the country. This makes transporting of coal for electricity generation problematic. Irregular coal deposits and associated transport difficulties were the motivation for the country’s decision to build the existing Koeberg nuclear power station, near Cape Town. The reactor was built during the 1970s, and is still in operation supplying electricity across the Western Cape.
The need for additional energy sources to address the South Africa’s unsatisfied energy demand is clear. But, can the government confidently say that all available options been considered, investigated, assessed? And has it been found that nuclear energy is the final and only possible solution to the country’s energy demand situation? What does the public think of the government’s sudden and determined interest in exposing the country to a significant number of new nuclear reactors? Will the public have a say in the matter?
Japan is still in a frantic clean up and cover up of the disaster. It is interesting to note that the 25% remaining local residents are increasingly talking about their world of radiation contamination. News24 reported on how local residents are living without being able to open their windows, avoiding the outdoors, their daily contamination fears. One million cancer cases are expected for the next two decades among the local population.
The true impact of the disaster might only be known in the future…Is South Africa taking a wise, thoroughly examined decision here?