Can you hear the Balalaikas playing?
When something happens once, you can excuse it – but twice in a year? For the second time, the Russian nuclear provider, Rosatom, ‘jumped the gun’ with an announcement that Russia and South Africa have ‘signed a deal’ for the provision of nuclear power reactors. In both cases, the SA government went into serious backpedalling mode, claiming that this was not a deal but an agreement to engage with Russia on nuclear power, and not an attempt to bypass constitutionally- required procurement processes. Rumour has it Ben Dikobe Martins, who was then the minister, was moved from his portfolio, Energy, after the first fiasco. One wonders if this will happen again.
Our key concern must be the obvious dangers of daily and long-lived radiation, to miners and local mining communities
More to the point is the whole problem of nuclear power. Our key concern must be the obvious dangers of daily and long-lived radiation, to miners and local mining communities, to people and the environment living near fuel fabrication processes like Pelindaba or nuclear reactors like Koeberg, and to those near nuclear waste dumping grounds such as Vaalputs near Springbok in the Northern Cape.
It gets worse – the international nuclear industry is in decline. The share of global electricity generated by nuclear power has dropped from an historic high of 17% of electricity to less than 12% in 2013, and dropping. The prices keep rising, and the price of the electricity generated does so too. The latest nuclear build in the UK at Hinkley Point produces electricity at R1.71 per kilowatt/ hour (kWhr); the Turkish Rosatom unit starts at R1.35 per kWhr. Currently, Eskom ‘sells’ electricity at 63c to municipalities, for which most us pay about R1 per unit. To recover the cost of nuclear power, expect at least a doubling of electricity prices.
We are told that we ‘need more electricity’ but we do not analyse what we are using our current supply for, with most of it going to big industry at subsidised rates. It was revealed that BHP Billiton was paying just 16c a unit not long ago. Some neo-liberal economists say we need more electricity for job creation (but only ‘if we have sustained 6% GDP growth’) and others say that ‘consumption is falling for every unit of GDP growth’ – both quotes from the same newspaper, Business Report 24 April 2013.
Being a nuclear state has global geopolitical significance
What is all this about, when windpower for example is far cheaper (at about 75c per unit), is delivered in short periods of time, and has the potential for more jobs for South Africans? Solar power too is a better long term bet.
It helps to understand the situation better when one reads advice to government that they ‘must have nuclear power if they want to play with the big boys, like the USA and France’ or that ‘being a nuclear state has global geopolitical significance’. Of course, the cynics amongst us will see the R1 trillion procurement as a large pot from which the corrupt can eat, given the ongoing secretive nature of the nuclear industry.
The track record has hardly been good – workers exposed to radiation, many of whom have since died, are still battling to get any form of compensation
The track record has hardly been good – workers exposed to radiation, many of whom have since died, are still battling to get any form of compensation, despite three previous stalled investigations by the Public Protector, with a fourth currently underway; the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA (NECSA) and the Dept of Environment is being taken to court for building nuclear waste metal smelters long after the record of decision had expired (if these go ahead, expect any and all metals in the local market to be radioactive, at least in pockets, with no tracking system to protect metalworkers or the public); the fiasco regarding the upgrade of the steam units at Koeberg has the company Westinghouse taking Eskom to court for awarding the tender to Areva; there are no plans for the massive bill that is facing us for the decommissioning of Koeberg (current costs in the UK suggest that it will be something in the region of R1.275 Trillion); and communities affected by uranium are still not being protected or relocated to safety. This is hardly a precursor for a bright nuclear future.
We need to shift away from both coal and nuclear power, under a just transition to genuine People’s Energy, with subsidies flowing to the poor, not the elite. Major union players agree; civil society agrees; now, to change the mind of government. The South African United National Anti-nuclear Mobilisation Initiative (TSUNAMI) is a grouping of some 50 civil society organisations as part of the anti-nuclear campaign. If you and your organisation wish to be more informed, and heard on this issue, please contact muna. email@example.com. Individuals may go to the TSUNAMI Facebook page
Muna is the Volunteer Branch co-ordinator Earthlife Africa Cape Town and National Co-ordinator of the Institute for Zero Waste in Africa (www.earthlife.org.za www.izwa. org.za )