Andreas Späth

Eskom nukes the Cape

2010-03-10 08:08

Cape Town is going to get another nuclear power plant. So are Thyspunt near Cape St Francis on the Eastern Cape coast and Bantamsklip between Hermanus and Agulhas in the Western Cape. That’s if Eskom and the government get their way.

The draft environmental impact report (EIR) for Eskom’s proposed new nuclear power station, Nuclear-1, and its associated infrastructure has just become available for public review and comment. The report draws together the findings of 24 specialist investigations assessing the environmental suitability of three sites: Thyspunt, Bantamsklip and Duynefontein, adjacent to the existing Koeberg nuclear plant.
The results?

While the report “recommends Thyspunt as the preferred site for Nuclear-1”, it emphasises that “there are no fatal flaws at any of the sites (provided appropriate mitigation is implemented) and that all three alternative sites are suitable for development of a nuclear power station”.

All of which is a rather happy coincidence for Eskom and our pro-nuke government (can anyone remember the days when the ANC was staunchly against atomic energy?), who have ready-made plans for nuclear power stations at all three sites. If everything goes to schedule, commercial operation at the three locations is scheduled to commence in 2018, 2020 and 2022, respectively.

The fact that two critical issues – how to deal with the vast quantities of long-lived radioactive waste generated by Nuclear-1, and its potential epidemiological health impact on surrounding communities – were explicitly excluded from the specialist environmental impact assessment (EIA) process explains at least in part why the experts could find “no fatal flaws”. Anti-nuclear activists have long identified these particular issues as major failings of the controversial technology. Simply ignoring them amounts to little more than a clumsy and rather transparent attempt at green-washing the proceedings by side-stepping serious hurdles.

That Thyspunt and Bantamsklip passed the EIA with flying colours is significant. Thyspunt is an area that is noted for its rich diversity of flora and fauna and the presence of extensive and sensitive wetlands. Bantamsklip is a registered National Heritage Site, an internationally recognised hotspot of biodiversity and floral endemism and a refuge to several endangered animal species. It lies wedged between the Dyer Island Nature Reserve and Great White Shark Marine Sanctuary, the Agulhas National Park and several other nature reserves.

While one would be hard pressed to find “ugly” spots anywhere along the South African coastline, the fact that two places as worthy of conservation as Thyspunt and Bantamsklip have been deemed suitable for building atomic power stations implies that there is literally no place on our coast that is safe from nuclear development.

But Eskom and government aren’t having it all their own way. Save Bantamsklip, a coalition of environmental groups, ratepayers’ and tourism associations and agricultural organisations, has been increasingly successful in organising popular opposition in the Overstrand region. Similar activities are in motion in the area around Thyspunt, while nationally, organisations such as Earthlife Africa, the Coalition Against Nuclear Energy (Cane) and Greenpeace are stepping up the fight against the proliferation of nuclear power.

Even in Cape Town people are slowly waking up to the fact that if they don’t take a stand, the politicians and technocrats will make far-reaching nuclear decisions on their behalf. To stop them, the venerable Koeberg Alert Alliance is in the process of being re-vitalised.

Before choosing places that are suitable for building nuclear power stations we should be discussing whether we want or need them in the first place. If you’d rather not have one in your back yard in the near future, join these organisations and become part of the new anti-nuclear movement.

Send your comments to Andreas

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Read more on:    eskom  |  cape town

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