South Africa, Durban – ENVIRONMENTAL activists have warned that the government’s move to build additional nuclear electricity generation capacity is “bad for democracy”, will jeopardize citizens’ health, and create a burden of nuclear waste for future generations.
This follows the release of a National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) consultation paper on Monday regarding Mineral and Energy Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe’s determination to commence the procurement of 2 500MW generation capacity from nuclear energy.
Public comments close on February 5.
The draft determination states that the commencement of the procurement of 2 500MW of nuclear capacity is in line with “Decision 8 of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for Electricity 2019-2030” which was gazetted on October 18, 2019.
The IRP 2019 indicates that due to the decommissioning of coal capacity post-2030 and the end of the design life of Koeberg nuclear power plant, “additional nuclear capacity at a pace and scale the country can afford is a no-regret option for the country”.
“South Africa is currently facing load-shedding, which is primarily driven by the declining coal fleet’s plant performance since 2008 and over-reliance on open cycle gas turbines. Load-shedding not only resulted in a loss of security of electricity supply to the country, but it also costs sectors of the economy billions of rand and leads to job losses as electricity is an economic enabler,” according to the Nersa paper.
“The procurement of 2 500MW from nuclear power will increase the nuclear contribution to the country energy mix from 2.4% to 5.6%, which is lower than any other capacity allocation except for the concentrated solar power.”
Environmental organisations said yesterday they were opposed to the creation of additional nuclear electricity generation capacity and that the government should switch to renewable energy.
groundWork researcher David Hallowes said the determination was “spectacularly open” in the way it had been drafted in terms of who could bid for the projects.
“We don’t want it for several reasons, first the entire production chain from mining through to the power station is not only energy-intensive it is also very polluting and dirty.
“On the West Rand, it’s known that the levels of radioactive contamination in the air are very strong. A lot of mine dumps are highly radioactive partly because the uranium came out with the gold,” Hallowes said.
“The impact is also the downstream impact of waste. We don’t have a high-level waste repository and neither does anyone else in the world,” he said.
He said low-level radioactive waste, such as radioactive gloves and other clothing, was taken to the country’s only radioactive waste disposal facility, Vaalput, in the Northern Cape but there was also high-level waste “sitting in ponds” in storage at Koeberg.
“The current plan is the next plant will be built next to Koeberg and it will simply accumulate high level waste there while they pretend there is another solution.
“The concern is there will either be an incident with the waste or they will find some half-baked solution,” Hallowes said.
Earthlife Africa Durban chairperson Alice Thomson said a nuclear build would place a “terrible legacy on future generations” who will have to deal with the waste.
“Studies show high rates of leukaemia in people who live near to nuclear power plants and there is also the risk of a big accident,” Thomson said.
“It is also expensive because at the end of the life of a nuclear power station they are going to have to decommission it and take it apart which is almost as extensive as building a new plant. They never take into account the cost of taking care of all the waste,” she said.
Energy analyst Ted Blom said legacy nuclear was “not the future” as it was capital intensive and usually did not deliver within budget and on time.
However, he said embedded generation nuclear with between 50MW and 200MW of capacity was safer.
“The chances of them exploding is supposed to be zero.
“They air cool and do not need a lot of water to cool down,” he said.
He said effluent generated was minimal as most of the waste could be reprocessed.