Nuclear will cause major debt, renewables will create jobs - Bishop

Bishop Geoff Davies, patron of Safcei.
Bishop Geoff Davies, patron of Safcei.

In an open letter to Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, Safcei patron Bishop Geoff Davies explains how big build projects like nuclear will indebt SA and won’t help create meaningful jobs…

Dear Minister Joemat-Pettersson,

You have issued a statement saying that “nuclear commissioning could be as early as 2026”, and that “a decision in the IRP2016 ‘to delay nuclear until 2037’ is simply untrue”.

We met some years ago in Kalk Bay over the conflict between the rights of small scale fishers versus the unsustainable interests of the capital intensive large scale fishing industry, employing far fewer people.

We are now seeing a similar David and Goliath struggle in your energy portfolio. Instead of encouraging, supporting and enabling the people of South Africa to be involved in renewable energy (RE), generating the electricity needed for our homes scattered across the countryside, the Department of Energy and Eskom is backing the costly and massive-scale of nuclear energy.

As with employment in fishing, so will it be with nuclear energy. A few hundred technicians will be required to run a nuclear power station, whereas RE will provide jobs for thousands, particularly if the government backs it and enables South Africa to become an RE manufacturing hub.

Financially, nuclear energy will lock us into an impossible debt for generations to come, whereas RE is being funded by private investors, requiring no debt on the part of the government. We want to be liberated so that households with RE are empowered with electricity and an income.

Though you say in your statement, there will be “increased renewables”, you also say it “cannot be unconstrained … because there are network constraints” and “storage is still in the very early stages of development and experimentation”.

Why be constrained? Look to the future and see the array of new RE developments and opportunities. Please, support and encourage RE. Germany, with its feed-in tariff, recently generated more electricity from renewables than coal. Develop a “smart grid” as in Europe and be open to the wide variety of storage becoming available. New battery developments, concentrated solar power (CSP) with saline batteries and hydro are a few examples you will know about.

With the global investments being made in this field, by 2026 nuclear will be an unwanted burden and huge financial millstone. It would be tragic for South Africa to be locked into nuclear by 2026 when renewables – and storage - will be a cheaper, cleaner, safer and more efficient option. Renewables will and already can generate round the clock.

Minister, we believe you are being ill-advised, especially by nuclear protagonists, who claim that you can only have ‘base load’ from nuclear and coal. It is simply no longer true.

To believe that renewable energy cannot provide base load means you are turning your back on future development prospects, job opportunities and the general well-being of the people of South Africa. Rather than relying on the nuclear industry for advice, we ask that you hear what experts from the energy research centres at UCT and Stellenbosch Universities, Mace and the CSIR are saying.

We also have to ask who this “base load” is for. We know that much of it is for heavy industry, mining and smelting. The existing coal powered stations will provide for that while renewables are developed. However, capital and energy intensive industry, mining, agriculture and fishing do people out of jobs. Unemployment, poverty and increasing inequality are our greatest challenges. We need energy for our people and labour intensive work with shared ownership. RE can provide that.

Nuclear will lead us into massive debt. It is neither clean nor green. When you take into account the health and environmental hazards of uranium mining, massive construction, water usage and the still unsolved problem of nuclear waste, it is a legacy we have no right to leave to our children. We have been given the answer. It is blowing in the wind and shining on us daily.

When we attended the Department of Energy report to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on 29 November, we heard that R210m has been or is committed to being spent in preparation for nuclear energy. As I heard of the detailed and costly work that has been undertaken, I thought "this is absurd! Is this reality?" Why spend all this money and effort on something that is neither right nor financially viable nor approved by the people of South Africa. That R210m could have been spent on renewable energy generation that would have been up and running by now, or educating and training the next generation of South Africans. Frankly, such expenditure is gross irresponsibility.

In your statement you have said that "a decision will only be made by the government once the consultation process has been concluded." Why has this not happened before all this money and effort was expended?

After the Portfolio Committee meeting, a people's "Speak Out" was held across the road from Parliament, with civil society that included local communities affected by uranium mining and nuclear waste. A statement headed "Hear the voice of the people of South Africa" was handed to Parliament on Wednesday 30 November.

SAFCEI and civil society have been seeking a meeting with our president about energy for five years, without success. The "speak out" was held because government has not consulted the general public. We know that the government, up to the level of the president, has met with nuclear energy protagonists, even to the extent of President Jacob Zuma meeting with President Vladimir Putin. Why has he not met with civil society?

The National Planning Commission has written of “the need to move away from narrow black economic empowerment benefiting only a few people to more broad-based approaches.” We beg you to follow a policy that will benefit the majority of South Africans, not a privileged minority.

Your position as Minister of Energy gives you the opportunity of making critical decisions that will either help the majority of South Africans overcome unemployment, poverty and inequality, or deepen the crisis facing our beloved country.

We extend our thoughts and prayers for you in the important decisions you have to make, with many pressures on you.

Yours in Christ,
Bishop Geoff Davies
Patron of Safcei

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