Tales from Nuclear Wonderland


IN REACTION to the nuclear views of Dr Kelvin Kemm, Fin24 user Gary Koekemoer puts forward an opinion on behalf of NoPEnuke.

Kemm serves on the ministerial Advisory Council on Energy. In an opinion piece Kemm touched on the local economic benefits for Port Elizabeth, why South Africa needs nuclear energy and the safety issues around the programme.

Koekemoer says NoPEnuke represents a small group of concerned citizens within the Nelson Mandela Bay area. They oppose the Thyspunt project on the grounds of affordability, inappropriateness of the site, safety concerns and the actual need within the Eastern Cape.

READ: SA nuclear site set to get green light

Koekemoer writes:

We are associated with Thyspunt Alliance and Amandla Resource Centre and work closely with Greenpeace and Earthlife Africa.

Reading anything nuclear-related written by Dr Kemm is a little like falling down the rabbit hole alongside Alice, into the world of Wonderland. Fairy-tale characters abound – from scaremongers masquerading as Mary Poppins – to nuclear executives in shining armour riding in to save the day. Sorting fact from fiction is always difficult when it comes to advertising.

Dr Kemm is the CEO of Nuclear Africa, whose business interest is to advise companies on how best to set up for opportunities within the nuclear industry. The Rosatom-sponsored public information pamphlets on their website give a clear indication of where the vested interest lies. This is not to negate what Dr Kemm says - rather it is to understand its place.

Nuclear power is first and foremost an industry whose primary objective is to profit from the generation and sale of electricity. It is an industry that has reached saturation point in its traditional western markets. The standard executive strategy when faced with potential decline in sales is to explore new markets.

Africa, with only two reactors at Koeberg, is the obvious place to deploy your marketing team. South Africa, with its relatively advanced infrastructure, is an important beachhead from which to launch a survival strategy.

The global nuclear industry is in decline. Currently there are 438 operationally-ready nuclear plants across the world (391 if idle plants are excluded). Nuclear's share of the global electricity mix peaked at 17.6% in 1996 and has dropped to 11% in 2014. In 2010 there were 15 new constructions launched. Post-Fukushima this has dropped to three. Most tellingly, installed capacity peaked at 368 GW in 2010 and sits at 337 GW in 2014 – an 8% decline.

READ: Nuclear adviser responds to his critics

If you’re Rosatom (a Russian state-owned enterprise launched in 2007), what do you do about that balance sheet? Or Areva – technically bankrupt and challenged in getting its answer-to-all product (EPR) up and running at various sites? Things aren’t looking as rosy as they used to. So, you do what good corporates do – you bring in the marketing team and launch a communication campaign designed to secure orders in the hope that your bank manager will stave off the final hammer.

What does the communication programme focus on? It emphasises the strengths of the product, slipstreams the global “green” movement, muddies the waters when it comes to your product failures, supports any allied voices like Dr Kemm and demonises any opposition as emotional, unscientific and unpatriotic.

This brings us back to Dr Kemm and his Wonderland tales. Did you notice that when talking up the localisation benefits, there is very little detail? Dr Kemm never produces evidence of how it has worked elsewhere and which specific businesses have benefitted. There is never a commitment to an actual localisation percentage. With the industry focus on the new builds in China (22 plants currently under construction), how does Dr Kemm envisage South African firms could compete with existing local Chinese firms already supplying that market?

If Rosatom is chosen, they stitch up the entire value chain in favour of other Russian State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) – this is clear from how they are operating in Turkey and India. Why would they do anything different in favour of SA industries? For them it just doesn’t make business sense.

When discussing Fukushima Daiichi – which the UN’s International Atomic Agency declared a disaster and Japan gave the highest nuclear accident rating possible – notice how Dr Kemm focuses on deaths from radiation as the defining element of a disaster. No mention of TEPCO’s recent announcement that one of the plant workers has leukaemia, the 9 plus workers killed on site from cleaning up accidents, the 1 000 plus Fukushima citizens who have died as a direct consequence of the evacuation, the 100 000 plus persons still unable to return home, and the 130 000 plus tonnes of contaminated top soil from local farms that have been bagged and stored.

The meltdown of three reactors at Fukushima Daiichi in 2011 was, and continues to be, a disaster no matter how many red herrings Dr Kemm conjures up. The suggestion that the assessment of risk attached to nuclear power is simply “scaremongering”, is the opinion of an industry lobbyist, not a balanced scientific assessment of past and potential accidents and the inherent risk nuclear fission contains.

When discussing costs, Dr Kemm says nothing about CSIR studies showing the cost of electricity being highest from nuclear - no reference to UCT’s ERC study for the National Development Plan (and the updated IRP 2010) showing that nuclear is unaffordable and unnecessary.

But then, would you expect anything less? How likely is it that an industry lobbyist, desperate to breathe life into a dying product, would acknowledge that nuclear had its chance? Like the Concorde and the Space Shuttle its time has come to be replaced by more cost-efficient and safer technological solutions to our energy challenges. South Africa does not need nuclear and simply cannot afford it, no matter how good a game Dr Kemm talks.

ALSO READ: Nuclear site: Fin24 community responds to Dr Kemm

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Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on Fin24 have been independently written by members of the Fin24 community. The views of users published on Fin24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent those of Fin24.

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