The fight against nuclear

Environmentalists, civic organisations and cultural activists are hopping mad over the proposed construction of a nuclear reactor at Thyspunt, about 70km southeast of Port Elizabeth.

They argue that consultation by Eskom is inadequate, and that their presentations against the project and its impact have not been well considered.

They have organised themselves into an association called the Thyspunt Alliance comprising 10 organisations representing various sectors and interests.

These are: St Francis Bay Residents’ Association; Cape St Francis Civic Association; Foster, an environmental organisation; Port St Francis Harbour Association; Gamtkwa Khoisan Council; Jeffreys Bay Boardriders; St Francis Kromme Trust; Sea Vista View; Supertubes Surfing Foundation; and the SA Squid Management Industrial Association (Sasmia).

“People also opposed to the proposed development can join as individuals,” said alliance coordinator Trudy Malan in an interview with City Press.

“This area cannot sustain such a development, both from a social and biophysical viewpoint,” Malan said.

“We believe in this case, strength does lie in numbers and it would therefore be an advantage for the cause to have more civil society and business associations join the alliance.”

Initially Eskom, which wants to build the multibillion-rand project, identified five sites, but has now chosen Thyspunt as the preferred one.

The 10 alliance partners have each engaged experts in culture, environment, fishing, geology and other areas to argue their case by submitting detailed and well-researched presentations to both Eskom and the department of environmental affairs, which is conducting the environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for the area.

As it is now, the department has not yet made a final decision as to whether it will go ahead with the project at Thyspunt.

Studies are still being conducted.

“The final EIA report was submitted to the department, but they have yet to issue authorisation,” said Malan.

“The date for the issuing of a possible record of decision by the department is somewhere between May and mid-June.

"If the authorisation is positive for the Thyspunt site, we will follow due process to challenge it. That is, we will first take the matter on review, and if we are not happy with the outcome, we will challenge it in court.”

She said regardless of what Eskom was saying, there were still several unprocedural matters that needed to be concluded before the project could go ahead.

“Besides the massive cost, as an organisation, we focus on the direct social, heritage and environmental impact that this proposed largest industrial development in the southern hemisphere will have on an area that can hardly cope at present,” said Malan.

Greg Christy, arguing on behalf of the Sasmia, said if the nuclear plant were allowed to go ahead, it would disturb the breeding area of squid that supported an industry he said had an annual turnover of R500 million.

“The squid industry at St Francis Bay employs 5 000 ­sea- and land-based jobs.

"At a time when South Africa is feeling the effects of the global recession, and in particular the fishing industry that is struggling owing to a strong rand and a depressed export market, the threat of the construction and operation of this nuclear power plant is extreme to the squid industry,” said Christy.

About 6.3 million cubic metres of sand would be dumped onto the offshore ocean and the squid ground ecosystem and breeding space would be disturbed, he said.

If the industry lost one season of profitable fishing, he said, many businesses, particularly those with bank finance and mortgage bond payments on their fishing vessels, may be liquidated.

“Commercial harvesting of squid is only possible in a small area off the Eastern Cape coast, with prime breeding grounds falling on the coast of the proposed development.

'If these prime grounds are destroyed or compromised, it is not for the fishing industry simply to pick another area to fish from,” argued Christy.

St Francis Bay Residents’ Association, in their presentation, said the noise pollution during construction would be “unbearable”.

They said huge trucks would be moving, carrying hazardous material 24 hours a day and using the many small feeder roads that would be also constructed.

“St Francis Bay is a highly successful and unique resort town with a worldwide reputation,” said the residents’ association presentation.

“A significant portion of the permanent population here comprises retirees who have worked their entire lives to enable them to live in what they regard as an incomparable environment.

"To then impose a transportation system of the type envisaged on such a community would be unjust and unreasonable.”

Kobus Reichardt, a representative of the Gamtkwa Khoisan Council, said that their heritage would be completely wiped out if the project were allowed to go ahead.

“We have in this area human remains of our ancestors and a lot of our archaeological material for our heritage is on the proposed site.

'If this project is allowed, all our heritage is gone. Also, in terms of Unesco’s definition, the chosen site is a cultural landscape, and it should not be disturbed in any way,” Reichardt said.

The Supertubes Surfing Foundation, a section 21 company founded in 1999 and a drawcard for international surfing competitions, is worried about the proposed development.

“Various other options of energy – wind, solar, biogas and wave power – have not been fully explored. Why nuclear? Renewables provide better, cheaper electricity and create jobs.

“The proposed development will alter the flora and fauna here, and put a stop to the surfing activity that goes on around here,” said the foundation, adding that international surfers brought the much-needed foreign currency when they come for competitions.

The SA Heritage Resources Council also refused to approve the site, saying it was “environmentally sensitive”.

The Thyspunt Alliance said it would fight the project to the bitter end, even going to the highest court in the land.

It is believed that the new nuclear build will add installed capacity of about 9 600 megawatts.

Earlier this month, Eskom and the Coega Development Corporation signed a memorandum of understanding to work together in the development of nuclear new-build programme.

Responding to the resistance to the choice of Thyspunt for a nuclear plant, Eskom this week said it initially applied to the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) for a nuclear installation site licence in March last year for Thyspunt and Duynefontein in the Western Cape.

“Thyspunt was recommended by the EIA as the preferred site for the installation of the nuclear reactors, with the final decision being awaited from the department of environmental affairs,” said Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe.

The NNR, said Phasiwe, was in the process of assessing the suitability of both sites to accommodate a nuclear installation.

“The NNR has appointed 16 local and international consultants to assist with the evaluation of the site safety report,” said Phasiwe.

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