WWF cautions SA on nuclear energy

2012-06-13 14:00
SA is pushing ahead with nuclear energy despite world-wide concern after the Japanese disaster. (AP)

SA is pushing ahead with nuclear energy despite world-wide concern after the Japanese disaster. (AP)

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Cape Town - South Africa should avoid going down the path of building more nuclear plants to ensure energy security, an environmental organisation has said.

"We have an international policy where we don't believe in nuclear - we are rather cautious and generally in many of our offices, they're pretty much opposed to nuclear power," Saliem Fakir WWF head of the Living Planet Unit told News24.

Internationally, many developed countries have moved away from nuclear generation after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan.

The building of nuclear plants internationally also takes a long time and they are often associated with cost overruns.

"The problem with nuclear is not just about the risk associated with radioactive waste, but it's also about the long-term financing cost, and it takes a long time to build.

"From work that we have studied, usually nuclear plants have huge cost overruns so we don't know if this makes financial sense," said Fakir who held the position of associate director for the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies at the University of Stellenbosch.

Electricity demand

SA has an acute shortage of electricity generation capacity and despite two coal-fired power stations being built; demand is predicted to escalate as the economy grows.

The Medupi power station Unit one near Lephalale in Limpopo province is scheduled to come online in 2013 and Eskom has committed itself to resolving all maintenance backlogs by then.

Some have criticised the utility over industrial users which consume around 37% of electricity capacity, and Fakir said that an analysis should be done on the viability of massive industrial projects.

"A large sector of the demand is driven by smelters and so on and we have to ask economically whether those smelters are adding real economic value or not.

"I think there's an underlying structural problem also around economy with regard to fair share of income," he added.

Energy Minister Dipuo Peters recently said that SA should move forward to build more nuclear power stations, amid opposition from Greenpeace.

"God gave us these resources and we must use them," she said.

Energy security

"Minister [Dipuo] Peters' support to expand nuclear power in Africa is extremely irresponsible given the socio-economic challenges prevalent on the continent," said Ferrial Adam anti nuclear campaigner for Greenpeace Africa.

The WWF conceded that minister wanted to promote energy security for the country, but indicated that her comments should be balanced.

"We must be careful that a political speaker who is just throwing enthusiasm about how this is going to change the world is also balanced with some realism around the issues of whether these are good choices or not.

"The National Planning Commission, for instance, which is a forum of real experts; although they've come out in support of fracking, they've raised lots of concerns about nuclear. Even in government, there are differences of opinion about this," said Fakir.

A recent informal News24 poll found that the majority of users were in support of the country's push toward nuclear energy, with 34% concerned about the environmental impact.

"I think if you were to tell people what the true figures are and the potential for corruption and all sorts of things around a large infrastructure programme, it might change people's minds about this," said Fakir.

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Read more on:    wwf  |  environment  |  nuclear

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