No to nuclear power

2012-03-10 12:58

On March 11 last year, the east coast of Japan was hit by an earthquake and tsunami that triggered a nuclear disaster.

Instead of learning from the tragic lessons of Fukushima, the South African government is pushing ahead with its nuclear plans to build six new nuclear reactors without public consultation or space for engagement.

We have often been told by government officials that the nuclear plan is part of the Integrated Resource Plan (2010) and thus it cannot be changed.

However, they seem to forget that the most cost-effective plan was one without nuclear power. With such high social, environmental and economic costs, this decision has to be revisited.

Governments across the world are rethinking nuclear energy after the Japanese nuclear disaster. Why then is the South African government so committed to racing ahead with this project?

Nuclear investments pose major questions around cost implications, an inability to deal with radioactive waste, and sustainable, affordable electricity provision.

The estimated cost of the nuclear build in South Africa ranges from R300 billion to R1 trillion. Minister Dipuo Peters recently commented that the R300 billion allocated to nuclear power in the energy budget is only the starting point.

There is a veil of secrecy around the nuclear plan that brings back memories of the infamous arms deal. It covers the potential bidders, and even the type of nuclear reactor.

It is hugely irresponsible for government to believe that they can spend billions of taxpayers’ rands on such dangerous and expensive technology without being transparent, or without any kind of public debate.

The nuclear industry often professes that nuclear energy is cheap. This is simply not the case. Even the World Bank refuses to fund nuclear projects due to the technical and financial risks involved.

The Olkiluoto-3 nuclear plant in Finland is a warning of the high construction costs and potential long delays in building nuclear reactors.

This plant has been under construction since 2004. Although the plant was supposed to have started delivering electricity in May 2009, its completion has been postponed several times in the past two years.

Initially, it was estimated that the construction would cost €3?billion (about R30?billion), but now the bills amount to well over €5.3?billion. The final cost is unclear. It is accepted that the world needs to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as fast as possible to combat climate change.

However, nuclear energy is not the panacea for climate change as proposed by the nuclear industry.

It is too little, too late and at too high a price. The reactors take too long to build (an average of 10 years) and the GHG reductions are too small.

Even if the number of nuclear reactors were quadrupled, GHG emissions would only decrease by 6%.

The 2012 state of the nation address focused on job creation, an important aspect of our economy.

However, nuclear’s contribution to job creation is limited, as is shown in Greenpeace’s latest briefing on green jobs. There will be an increase in nuclear jobs during the construction phase, dropping sharply afterwards.

By contrast, renewable energies provide a sustainable, long-term increase in green jobs, up to a total of 148 000 jobs by 2030 if South Africa follows a clean-energy pathway.

The future lies in new energy policies and systems. Base load generation, based on coal and nuclear, belongs in the past.

Combined renewables, such as solar, wind and biomass, together with active demand-side management, are already demonstrating their ability to provide safe and reliable electricity around the world.

The South African government must stop the push to build six nuclear reactors and, instead, engage with citizens and provide platforms for honest and open debate.

There are far too many questions left unanswered and all South Africans have a right to know where such a huge amount of money will be spent.

» Adam is a climate change energy campaigner with Greenpeace

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