Group slams SA nuclear energy

2011-05-17 08:23
Earthlife Africa has slammed the government's moves toward nuclear energy. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Earthlife Africa has slammed the government's moves toward nuclear energy. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - SA is not in any kind of energy crisis, despite the unfolding crisis at nuclear plants in Japan, an activist organisation has said.

"It's [the energy crisis] a complete fabrication. Of our total capacity, domestic users account for 18%," Muna Lakhani, Cape Town branch co-ordinator for Earthlife Africa told News24.

He slammed Eskom for their lack of transparency in negotiating electricity tariffs with industrial consumers at the expense of domestic users.

"If all domestic users cut down on consumption by 50% that would be amazing, but that saving would be wiped out when the new smelter at Coega goes online. Thirty-six companies use 40% of our total capacity and one uses 10%.

"There's something immoral about our electricity consumption and who uses it," said Lakhani.

Nuclear energy

According to Mark Allix in Business Day, the Eastern Cape will get a R2.7bn a year boost with the construction of a R4.2bn manganese smelter in the Coega industrial development zone, but much of the benefit will be limited to the Nelson Mandela Bay metro area.

The proposed Coega smelter is part of an R11bn investment by state-backed empowered resources company Kalagadi Manganese, which is building an integrated mining, primary refining and beneficiating chain between the Northern Cape and the Eastern Cape.

Recently the government has announced that it intends to move toward a green energy production, but has come under fire from environmentalists for continued discussions on nuclear energy.

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

"Nuclear is a false dichotomy - it's blackmail. We are told to choose coal or nuclear: It's nonsense; there are many myths about energy," Lakhani said.

Analysts have said that the nuclear industry is in renaissance, despite the tragedy of the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, which has become the worst nuclear disaster after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11 since Chernobyl in 1986.

The Japanese disaster killed an estimated 14 800 people and both operator Tepco and the government have come under fire for their handling of the crisis.

Renewable energy

"There's a push by the nuclear industry to enter the South. There aren't even that many new entrants in the market, so when they talk about this nuclear renaissance, it's bullshit," said Lakhani.

He said it was critical for the country to turn to renewable energy.

"On a simple economic basis, solar power became cheaper than nuclear last year [2010. There's an underlined sub-text going on here: In pure Rand for Rand basis nuclear is a stupid idea."

The nuclear energy industry has recently come under fire in the UK.

The Energy and Climate Change Select Committee's report accused ministers of disguising the subsidy and distorting the reforms, the BBC reported.

But the nuclear industry refuses to build new power stations without further incentives, so ministers are proposing long-term contracts at a guaranteed price for nuclear power.

'Nuclear nonsense'

"Because of the huge up-front investment, a firm needs reasonably confidence on a rate of return," said committee chair and the Conservative MP for South Suffolk, Tim Yeo.

"The government should have been explicit about its determination to support nuclear like other low-carbon sources.

"But because it has been shackled by its promise, it has tried to disguise the support and produced a system that is so complicated that it probably won't deliver," he added.

Earthlife Africa also urged the South African to abandon nuclear energy.

"We need to ensure that the government stops this nuclear nonsense and any further production of coal-fired plants. The way we do business is inherently unsustainable. We need to come around with a different mindset for infrastructure," Lakhani said.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

Read more on:    earthlife africa  |  environment  |  nuclear

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