A few days ago, former President Jacob Zuma went on record saying that his proposed nuclear deal with Russia would have averted the crisis at Eskom. However, the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) – who joined Earthlife Africa Johannesburg in taking the government to court over the nuclear deal – says that it was Mr Zuma’s obsession with the deal, which played a definitive role in the country’s intensifying energy crisis.
SAFCEI’s Energy Justice Coordinator, Vainola Makan says that it is evident that Mr Zuma still believes himself to be above the law, particularly since the Russian nuclear deal – which was shrouded in secrecy and suspicious dealings, and would have cost the country upwards of R1-trillion – was ruled unlawful and unconstitutional in the Western Cape High Court in 2017.
Says Makan, “A major problem with the nuclear deal was that the government deliberately excluded public input in these enormous decisions, and in some instances even bypassed Parliament. This is a trend that still continues today. We still find that the Department of Energy (DoE) makes decisions on behalf of the nation without proper public consultation. Why are we being kept in the dark about the intentions of the Ministry?”
Makan adds that Mr Zuma’s comments are problematic for a number of other reasons, “Firstly, the nuclear deal was too expensive and would have required the country’s entire annual budget – which should be spent on public services such as healthcare and education, as well as building the economy, and more. And, it was the very threat of a nuclear deal that led to South Africa’s downgrade to junk status, for its potential to bankrupt the country.”
“Secondly, a new nuclear plant would have taken too long to build, to have had any impact on the current energy crisis. It would take more than ten years for a plant to be ready to produce energy and that is only if there are no delays, which are expected and common occurrences for such large-scale projects. And on top of this, the deal completely indemnified Russia in case of a nuclear accident, placing all liability on South Africa’s budget.”
“Eskom’s problems became apparent more than a decade ago, under his watch, and the situation has only deteriorated further. We are seeing the impact of what happens when the country’s energy decisions become a political arena serving the only interests of a few people, superseding the interests of the whole. It is therefore urgent that the DoE finalises the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).
Bridget-Nomonde Scoble, from the Quaker faith says, “Citizens know what good governance looks like, when politicians make the right decisions about our futures, we know. We may not understand all the technical aspects of the issues, but as people of faith we understand the moral and ethical needs of South Africans, and we know when politicians are making decisions based on their own greed, not the people's needs. The economy should not come before the wellbeing of the people."
"South Africa should be leading in the region on transitioning to safe, sustainable and renewable energy systems that create jobs and increase access to energy, but instead, the issue of nuclear energy has been raised yet again. It seems the government still has to fight corruption among its own ranks, when they should be providing ethical leadership for the country at this critical time," adds Bridget-Nomonde.
SAFCEI’s Executive Director, Francesca de Gasparis says, "As we hear of what leadership in South Africa is planning for our energy future, the humanitarian crises faced by our neighbours, sisters and brothers, in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi caused by Cyclone Idai, is a tragic example of the spectre of climate change. It is a dire warning of the kinds of the extreme weather events we will experience at ever-increasing frequency and intensity, if we do not stop our addiction to fossil fuels. These visible impacts of climate change, signify the urgent need to start to plan seriously for a low carbon future, with minimal fossil fuels. Investing in coal and oil at this stage, with the knowledge we have about climate change tipping points, is gross negligence.”
De Gasparis says that, furthermore, too little is known about the impacts of the current nuclear waste storage options used, to claim nuclear energy as clean or a solution to climate change. “There is still no safe way to dispose of radioactive waste. The amounts of high-level and harmful waste sitting at Koeberg continues to grow, and neither Minister Radebe nor the DOE have ever provided an answer to the problem of disposing nuclear waste. And, even though the Minister argues that SA has to keep nuclear on the table, we have absolutely no idea what the toxic radioactive waste could mean for our Earth in the long run.”
Jan Arkert, SAFCEI’s Science Advisor based in the Karoo, says that it is seems that the South African government is still vying to squander the country’s already-limited funds on unaffordable and dirty nuclear energy, and the current state of Eskom has become the catalyst for grooming the public, creating the false illusion that nuclear energy is the only and inevitable solution out of the current mess at Eskom.
“Apart from the lack of solutions for disposing of dangerous nuclear waste, the tailings generated from mining uranium – which is the fuel needed to produce nuclear energy – is very dangerous and environmentally unacceptable, with long term consequences on natural resources, especially for a country that is experiencing dramatic water shortages. These issues, no matter how Minister Radebe and other nuclear advocates try to sugar-coat it, is clear evidence that nuclear energy is neither clean nor safe,” says Arkert.
“The draft IRP makes provision for an annual growth of 200MW of renewable energy per year. That figure could be increased at little or no cost to the tax payer. Sadly, it is clear that the government is determined to adopt nuclear, irrespective of the costs to the environment and society, now and in the future, if they push ahead with a R1-trillion spend by 2030,” concludes Arkert.
Issued by Natasha Adonis, on behalf of SAFCEI. For more information, contact Natasha on 0797-999-654 (also available on WhatsApp) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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