Andreas Späth

Why Russian nukes are good for us

2014-10-06 09:06

Andreas Wilson-Späth

You can imagine my surprise the other day, when I was surreptitiously handed a crumpled up piece of paper by a somewhat spooky looking individual wearing a long, gunmetal grey trench coat and a wide-brimmed hat pulled low over his face.

Turns out the document he palmed off on me in passing was a secret memo from a clandestine meeting between South African energy power brokers and Rosatom, the Russian atomic energy agency, which took place somewhere in South America recently.

Here’s what was scribbled on the page:

    "Why Russian nukes are good for SA:

- Rosatom scientists and engineers have managed to take all of the risk out of running nuclear power stations, making them foolproof against human error and impenetrable to all manner of natural disasters, tsunamis, earthquakes, rocket bombardment and jumbo jet impact. Someone in our party mentioned something called ‘Chernobyl’, but our Russian friends assured us that that was ancient history and actually in the Ukraine, which is (currently) not part of Russia (yet).

- The Russians have simply done away with the interminable delays that have so often hampered the construction of new nuclear plants in the past. The one they’re building in Turkey right now is merely 18 months behind schedule and may be operational by 2020 or possibly much later.

- They’ve successfully cut the umbilical cord which has long connected the nuclear power industry to the nuclear weapons industry that gave birth to it. Besides, South Africa is not Iran – we can be trusted with the technology. Combined with our own outstanding safety record this will ensure that atomic bombs, dirty or clean, build by the state or by terrorists, are not part of the deal.

- They’ve eliminated the democracy deficit that used to be inherent in the nuclear power industry and necessitated weapons-grade security, centralised control and secrecy because of the dangers involved. We’re told that we’ll hear more about this at our next undercover soirée.

- They’ve come up with a solution to the old bugbear of what to do with all of the highly toxic, long-term radioactive nuclear waste the plants will generate: they’ll take it all back home, where they have a squeaky-clean record of processing and disposing of all sorts of radioactive goodies. The same doubting Thomas who’d muttered ‘Chernobyl’ earlier now asked about things called Mailuu-Suu and Lake Karachay, but our friends assured us that they’d never heard of either.

- While other new nuclear power plants are routinely plagued by huge cost overruns, the folks at Rosatom pledge to try their very best to stay more or less within budget. At this rate, our domestic electricity prices are practically guaranteed not to increase by much more than 100%.

- They’ve promised to assist us in cleaning up South African areas polluted by uranium and propose a new mass participation swimming competition to celebrate the occasion: The Wonderfonteinspruit Mile.

- While the amount of money involved is positively gargantuan, making the Arms Deal look like small change and offering plenty of prospects for creatively allocating funds, the Russians have assured us that there will be absolutely no room for graft or financial malfeasance of any kind in the official agreement."

A few days after I was handed this remarkable document, my next-door neighbour Annie, told me that her mother-in-law had heard that President Zuma was allegedly reported to have remarked to Vlad Putin that the Kremlin lights were particularly shiny at the moment and – hey presto – the nation was the proud signatory of a nuclear cooperation deal with Rosatom.

The government has been at pains to emphasise that this is not an exclusive arrangement, of course, ensuring that alternative vendors of atomic technology – the French, Chinese and Americans among them – understand that they too can have a slice of our yellowcake.

- Andreas is a freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
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