Trillion rand baby

2015-02-15 21:04

The SONA 2015 address was somewhat awkwardly embarrassing, but exceptionally entertaining. Addressing the energy “challenge” and diversifying our energy mix became the centre. President Zuma’s affirmation to nuclear has showed that the current government has failed to recognize the current electricity crisis and the need for immediate energy solutions, and does not really care about our “current” state of the nation. It is also clear, due to the Government’s sheer determination to procure nuclear, that the pursuit of economic growth extends far beyond any significant concern for environmental protection and sustainability.

I start off by commending SAFCEI patron Bishop Geoff Davies, who calls South Africa’s trillion rand nuclear deal not only foolish but immoral. The weekly Wednesday morning vigils held by the South African Faith Communities Environmental Institute (SAFCEI) outside Parliament that have taken place for the past three months now and continue indefinitely have been more than just consistent. And they’ve shown no signs of surrendering until the South African Government receive their message.

A message that is shared by Greenpeace – nuclear energy is financially unaffordable and environmentally unsustainable.

But Nuclear is not in all cases bad. It does have its perks. Thanks to the mistakes of our current electricity supplier and the inconvenience of unplanned maintenance, wet coal and rundown silos, nuclear energy is very attractive, and necessary, and desirable (that’s what they say) to meet our long term energy needs. What’s more, an aging fleet of coal-fired power plants that has failed to keep pace with electricity demand and rolling blackouts that has lowered manufacturing and mining output are all the more good reason for a more reliable and diversified source of energy. Unlike the intermittent and unreliable renewable sources, nuclear power is efficient, reliable, cost-effective and powerful. Thanks to Eskom’s current problems, we are going to need all the energy we can get, at any time and fast, especially for a country like South Africa that needs as much growth as it can find without hammering down on the environment as much as coal does.

But it is still way too expensive and risky when you consider the lasting legacy and deadly effects of radiation on the health of both current and future generations (if the exploration of uranium and treatment of radioactive waste become unmanageable). With the world’s nuclear history full of nuclear catastrophes, our Government in its secret deals has so far done nothing to assure us, except state that it is necessary, that this time in South Africa with its corruptibility it will truly be safe for us, for people who will live near to reactors and that the containment of radioactive waste will forever remained ‘contained’.

And still they continue in their secret pursuit and choose to ignore professional, opinionated objections. They’ve said that we need growth. They’ve said that it is necessary and desirable. They’re telling us that we should trust them and that what they are doing is in the best interest of all South Africans. We need to disabuse them of the idea that our prosperity is dependent on growth alone. We need to advance economic growth and long-term development by taking into account environmental, human and social considerations.

We do not need secret deals. We do not need to build mega nuclear plants out of a desperate need for efficiency and power to advance economic growth. We do not need to shun away other alternative renewable sources that are perceived to be intermittent and unreliable. We need to focus on what makes us unique. Do we really need to pay R1 trillion for Russia to come here and secure our energy future and risk the financial position and health of current and future generations because of mistakes that we’ve made in the past? Or should we rather exploit the 100 000 square kilometer array of solar irradiation in the Karoo?

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