South Africa’s government is adamant: nuclear energy will form a central part of the country’s future energy generation. Plans for 9600 nuclear generated megawatts, at an expected immediate cost of $40 million, are firm. Between six and ten reactors are planned for completion by 2030, and preferred sites in the Eastern and Western Cape provinces have already been earmarked. These government plans were published with Fukushima disaster and devastation still fresh on the global agenda. But it might not be far-fetching to reason that there is a hole in the global nuclear industry, and energy deprived South Africa acts as the perfect string-puppet to bridge the gap. French energy expert and anti-nuclear campaigner, Yves Marignac warned in a Washington Times interview: there is a race between confirming new nuclear contracts and the development of new international nuclear standards. The South African government refuses to discard nuclear energy as a potential solution to the country’s energy insecurity, yet environmental and social watchdogs are determined: South Africa should be nuclear free.
The greatest fear surrounding the government’s plans for nuclear reactors, is the untested nature of the proposed reactors. According to Professor Stephen Thomas of the University of Greenwich, the latest generation reactors were developed taking into account known dangers and risks. However, although envisioned to avoid known dangers such as the dangers of Chernobyl, these reactors remain untested. Environmental watchdogs, Earthlife Africa, also vehemently oppose the new reactors, arguing that the governmental approval process is going ahead even with the reactor design process still lacking behind.
Gray areas & information disclosure
A gray area of considerable size surrounds the government’s sudden rush for nuclear energy. For example, the proposed nuclear plants will deliver less than 2.5% of South Africa’s current electricity generation capacity – yet, the country’s people and environment will need to live with the risks associated with nuclear hazards for many many centuries. The economics behind the nuclear programme is another major uncertainty. At a recent media discussion in Johannesburg, Professor Thomas said that no one knows what the government’s planned nuclear energy programme will cost – it could turn out to be vastly more than ever budgeted for, with an associated economic burden boiling down to the level of the individual taxpayer. Both Professor Thomas and Earthlife Africa pointed out that the government’s nuclear energy budget is based on outdated economic figures – the cost of generating one kilowatt of nuclear energy has increased from $4,000 to $7,000 since the government’s February budget review. Which means that the government’s nuclear energy budget is probably far under-estimated.
A gray area particularly involving the members of public, is the false perception that nuclear energy is a future energy generation solution as it does not contribute to climate change. How wrong this is! Under the Kyoto Protocol, nuclear energy generation is not a Clean Development Mechanism and even though greenhouse gases are not emitted during the energy generation process, emissions and harmful emissions that is, remain. Nuclear energy is very far from being environmentally sound and its impact stretches from the first phases of uranium mining to the disposal of extremely hazardous radioactive waste. It remains unclear why the South African government is aiming to implement environmentally and socially unsound and unsafe energy generation plans, at excessive costs, without first adopting energy efficiency measures. It is said that implementing energy efficiency measures and products can cut South Africa’s energy demand by between 20% and 50%. Earthlife Africa noted that 50kWh can be saved by implementing energy efficiency measures with a cost of $2. On the other hand, only 7.4kWh can be generated with $2.
The answer to a nuclear free South Africa?
Renewable energy. South Africa could and should take the lead in developing environmentally safe and responsible energy generation, at feasible costs and with associated community and social benefits. Are we hearing your voice in support of a nuclear free South Africa?
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Photo credits: some rights reserved by Montgomery County Planning Commission, listentoreason and rvdh via flickr