Governments' Nuclear Plan Ignores its Own Energy Advice

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Wednesday, 3 December, 2014 - 09:16

South Africa should consider safe energy sources other than nuclear in order to save people’s lives and the environment  

Despite public outrage at the secretive procurement agreements signed by Energy Minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, and various nuclear vendor countries in September 2014, the government is forging ahead with its 9 600MW nuclear plans. On 26 November 2014, the Department of Energy announced that it has successfully concluded a second nuclear vendor parade workshop with delegations from China, France, South Korea and the United States of America. The first nuclear vendor parade workshop was held with the Russian state owned Rosatom in late October 2014.
 
Workshops have now been held with all of the vendor countries with who Intergovernmental Framework Agreements have been signed, yet the South African public has yet to see what these agreements actually entail. Nor have these agreements been tabled in Parliament. According to the government, the workshops are a significant phase in the nuclear pre-procurement phase and that the next step will be to design and launch a procurement process. The government claims that the delegates from the vendor countries showcased their nuclear capabilities to a large South African contingent made up of senior government officials, state-owned enterprises and academics. Despite the Constitution's section 217, which requires transparency, these processes remain non-transparent, masking any debate into the cost-effectiveness of nuclear power. Backroom, shady deals are not in line with transparency and an open society.
 
Energy policy officer at Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, Dominique Doyle, calls the workshops, "Further evidence that the South African government is unconcerned with the South African people who will ultimately foot the bill for this extremely expensive endeavour and is blithely ignoring the Constitution. Given the alternatives, such as wind power, which is continuing to become less expensive, nuclear energy will subject the nation to unnecessary health, financial and environmental risk."
 
To rub salt into the wound, President Jacob Zuma, found the time to visit the nuclear research centre at Pelindaba near the Hartebeestpoort Dam on 27 November 2014.  In conclusion to the vendor parade workshops the president stated that those who are cautious or critical of nuclear energy, because of the sheer cost, need to be educated. The president makes these statements while former employees of Pelindaba have lodged complaints with the Public Protector because of contracting serious diseases after being exposed to radiation at the facility.
 
The government's focus on nuclear power is out of sync with its own policy recommendations.  In an effort to validate procuring 9 600 MW, the Department of Energy is relying on an old version of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which was published in 2010 and included nuclear power in the future energy mix. However, an updated version of the IRP was published in 2013. The updated version advised that nuclear power should be delayed until 2025-35 due to a stagnating energy demand.
 
The updated IRP further advised that new large energy infrastructure development projects be avoided. The National Planning Commission (NPC) also supports that the decision on nuclear power be delayed by as far as the year 2040. The NPC has made this recommendation according to the results of an energy modelling exercise it commissioned from the Energy Research Centre at the University of Cape Town. The modelling informed the National Development Plan (NDP), which calls for a thorough investigation into the costs and timing of nuclear power.
 
Earthlife Africa Johannesburg senior programme manager, Makoma Lekalakala, further states that, "Besides the astounding lack of public engagement, the government is actually ignoring its own technical advice. These illogical actions reveal aspirations that are not entirely based on the need to keep the lights on. The current load shedding is providing fodder to the myth that nuclear energy is the answer to South Africa's energy crisis."

- Makoma Lekalakala is senior programme manager and Dominique Doyle (Tel: 011 339 3662, Mobile: 079 331 2028, Email: dominique@earthlife.org.za) is energy policy officer at Earthlife Africa Johannesburg.

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