We need open minds for nuclear discussions
On April 26, the Western Cape High Court set aside government’s decision underpinning the country’s nuclear procurement plans, ruling them unlawful and unconstitutional, and made the same judgment on intergovernmental agreements with the United States, South Korea and Russia (State’s hopes for a nuclear future nuked”). The judges pointed out infringements in the public participation process.
Yet the decision would not eliminate nuclear from South Africa’s energy mix, because the country needs to shift from coal to more sustainable energy sources. Peter Attard Montalto of consulting firm Nomura says the judgments “have not killed South African nuclear plans”, and his opinion is backed by Kelvin Kemm, the chair of the South African Nuclear Energy Council (Necsa), who said: “A false impression has been created that this judgment is anti-nuclear. It is not.”
The transition to a low-carbon energy future with the use of a mix of low-carbon sources of generation such as nuclear and renewables is inevitable.
As Ben Heard, the director of the South Australian-based nongovernmental organisation Bright New World, argued in The Huffington Post SA, South Africa should not be used as a battlefield between different ideologies promoted by energy lobbies.
South Africa can successfully take a rational path of nuclear and renewable energies, which will be beneficial for all in ensuring sustainable and strong energy generation.
Today, such a “clean slate” state of energy affairs can become a driver for new debates. All interested parties should make use of the situation and start comprehensive engagement with each other to overhaul our integrated resource plan (IRP) and our integrated energy plan.
Indeed, according to Mining Weekly’s Terence Creamer, the IRP 2017 base case scenario has been tabled and there has already been a public participation process. Yet Creamer believes “there is still an opportunity to make the updating far more inclusive, more transparent and more credible”.
The court statement could create an ambiguous situation in which nuclear energy and technologies are painted black. Kemm says anti-nuclear sentiments could be detrimental to South Africa’s international reputation and commercial standing.
The decision to build the Koeberg nuclear power station met all the expectations, he continues. Nuclear is currently the cheapest electricity source in South Africa.
The situation in South Africa is not doomed to chaos. It opens a space for cohesion among those who care about a sustainable future.
Another question: How will the vendors take part in this debate? Annulled agreements with three nuclear powers create a legal infrastructure for co-operation in only one particular case. That does not mean restricted co-operation.
The Russian and French vendors have been the most vocal lately. Should they abstain from or join the debate, considering they have their own experience in stakeholder involvement?
They should join. French Areva built Koeberg. South Korea’s Korea Electric Power Corporation built a modern thermal power plant, allowing it to carry out the first independent power project in South Africa. US company Westinghouse, for its part, announced in 2013 that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Necsa to co-operate in the development of local fabrication capabilities for fuel assembly components. The Russian nuclear power company Rosatom, with a track record of international co-operation, is already present in South Africa through its subsidiary Tenex, which has supplied fuel to Koeberg for two decades. There are many co-operation projects underway, and all parties should be included in the debate.
I sincerely hope there will be an objective debate on nuclear, so that even diehard environmentalists can see its benefits. – Andrew P Johnson, Pretoria
■ The nuclear industry has access to taxpayers’ money to buy a four-page advertising supplement in the Mail & Guardian (April 28). The majority of South Africans do not, and so can only write letters to editors.
Millions of South African voters and taxpayers think that nuclear is the most costly and complex electricity option, and dangerous to boot. The least costly option would be a blend of solar, wind and other renewables, plus imported hydropower and imported gas. This is clear from the government’s IRP 2016 Report.
The latest consultative hearings held by the department of energy had breathtaking omissions and brazen rigging of figures.
In 2014 the department of energy gave the parliamentary portfolio committee a presentation on the recently signed treaty of the Grand Inga hydropower project. In it, it said South Africa “is guaranteed a minimum of 9 540MW and a maximum of 13 060MW – and could negotiate to import even more electricity”. This option was censored out of future plans and projections in its December 2016 public hearings.
Similarly, the department argued in the 2016 consultations that nuclear power stations were needed because our annual economic growth was 3% – whereas the widely publicised real figure is 0.2%.
South Africans must be on the alert for omissions and fact-rigging by the nuclear industry, and make our voices heard at any public hearings that National Energy Regulator of South Africa may announce. – Keith Gottschalk, Cape Town