Activists slam SA nuclear decision

2011-09-16 11:31
Cape Town - Environmental groups have slammed the government's decision to build nuclear plants, saying it will not lead to energy security for South Africa.

"As for nuclear energy as being our answer to whatever Eskom thinks it will be, that's not entirely true. If Eskom is concerned with electricity security, energy security and safe electricity supply, nuclear is not going to be able to provide that," Ferial Adams of Greenpeace Africa told News24.

Energy Minister Dipuo Peters announced on Thursday that the building process to build new nuclear plants which would produce 9 600MW, would begin by 2012.

"If you look at Finland and France which is the model South Africa wants to use, there've been so many delays. Each delay costs them about a billion euros a year.

"So in terms of a safe energy supply, by the time we get nuclear it won't be the right thing. Given the time constrains, it just makes sense to then now [to] invest in renewable energy," said Adams.

Base load energy

SA experienced rolling blackouts in 2008 when Eskom had trouble meeting demand and there have been suggestions that the country would need to build coal-fired power stations to provide base load energy demands.

Eskom suggested that nuclear power was required to account for base load energy supply. This is defined as the minimum amount of energy a utility must supply to meet demand.

"The fact of the matter is that nuclear power is neither cheap, nor quick, nor safe. Even if nuclear one was approved tomorrow, it would take about 12 years before it came online, so it would hardly be relevant to the so-called current electricity crisis," said Muna Lakhani, Cape Town branch co-ordinator for Earthlife Africa.

As SA prepares to host the COP 17 climate conference where activists expect a commitment to reducing pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, utilities have said that nuclear power was better able to cope with expanding energy demand, while reducing atmospheric emissions.

But Greenpeace said that the reliance on base load was flawed and that nuclear plants around the world were subject to delays because of safety and regulatory requirements.

"Big utilities around the world have been punting the issue of base load, and saying that we need base load that’s why we can’t move away from things, and then saying that nuclear is the answer to that.

"Base load is not the most sustainable way of us using our energy. We actually lose a lot of our energy supply and Greenpeace has come out with our Energy Revolution, where we show that actually, you don’t really need base load for our electricity supply to work," said Adams.

Renewable energy

She said that SA needed to diversify its energy mix to create the best possible reliability.

"There's a lot of old school in [the way] we're doing things as South Africa. We're saying that decentralised energy supply makes more sense.

"So even if you have a problem in one area, you're not cutting out many parts of the grid or almost half the country like happened in 2008.

"It also allows for the diversification of your energy supply. When you're dependant of one type of energy supply or like we are in South Africa, 95% comes from coal, then you're kind of dependant on specific sources."

Greenpeace said that SA should have a more focused approach to renewable energy in order to move the country away from fossil fuels.

"Of course we're not going to say tomorrow we must shut down all the coal-fired power stations, but we're saying there must be a just transition to get to a point where we can be more dependent on renewable energy," said Adams.


Lakhani said that the South African economy was in need of reform so that industries that used a greater portion of the electricity consumption were limited.

"We have a situation where one company, BHB Billiton, uses 10% of the electricity. That's an awful lot when you consider all 50 million of us use only 18% and they create a few thousand jobs.

"So I don't see the economic or social or environmental value of having business like that. So we need to change the way the economy works."

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    greenpeace  |  earthlife africa  |  energy  |  nuclear  |  climate change  |  cop 17

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