Greenpeace Africa

Campaigning to achieve social and environmental justice

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When asked why Greenpeace Africa campaigns against nuclear energy, the answer can be summed up in three simple words: cost, time and danger. Nuclear simply delivers too little, too late, and at too high a price.

Based on decades of international experience, nuclear never delivers on time or in budget. This means that the trillion rand price tag currently attached to the South African government’s nuclear ambitions will increase steeply with building delays, and it could take even longer than an optimistic decade-long time horizon. Nuclear is currently a hot-topic, and it could be argued that in any conversation one finds oneself in, in South Africa at the moment (outside of President Zuma’s inner circle,) the majority of people will share the opinion that South Africa cannot afford nuclear energy. Our electricity tariffs are increasing exponentially due to Eskom’s new build coal projects, which are heavily delayed, with massive cost overruns. Nuclear investments would have the same effect on the tariffs but at a much larger scale.

The well-funded pro-nuclear lobby predictably likes to state that nuclear is safe and points to the supposedly spotless safety record of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station. We must however bear in mind that nuclear combines the always present risk of human error with very complicated technology which means there is always the risk that something can go wrong. Fukushima is a perfect and very tragic example of this.

People tend to see nuclear disasters as exceptional and write them off. Nuclear lobbyists tell us that the technology has improved and they have now fixed whatever the issue was in order to ensure that particular problem will not happen again, and yet Chernobyl and Fukushima have shown just how wrong they were. The fact that nuclear disasters happen at all is the real issue, leaving massive tracts of land contaminated and families unable to move back to their homes. Fukushima is a worst case scenario of what is looks like when nuclear goes horribly wrong, being that most recent nuclear disaster the world has experienced.

A nuclear accident can result in widespread contamination of air, water and land. In Fukushima a massive land decontamination programme is underway by the government.

Colossal amounts of contaminated soil has been removed and contained in bags, these have been piled in heaps to create vast waste dumps reminiscent of the mine dumps that surround Johannesburg. It is crucial that we think carefully about nuclear. In our most apocalyptic imaginings, can we even contemplate Cape Town as a nuclear disaster zone?

Most people do not know that all the high level waste is stored on-site in Koeberg—only the mid to low level waste is transported to the nuclear waste storage site at Vaalputs. The reality is that there is no long term solution for the high level nuclear waste generated by Koeberg, and the storage of the high level waste at the reactor multiplies the threat, and means that if something went wrong it would be catastrophic.

Internationally the nuclear industry is declining, and nuclear companies are now trying to push their technologies into Africa. But this continent should no longer be the dumping ground for technologies that do not deliver, cost too much, and have massive risks. There is massive potential for renewable energy across the continent, and countries can leapfrog dirty and dangerous electricity production by investing in renewable energy instead.

If we went ahead with the nuclear plans in South Africa, we would find ourselves paying back the debt for electricity that can only deliver in a decade (at best), at a price that when it does deliver no one could afford. Earlier this year, the Council for Industrial and Scientific Research released research that clearly showed renewable energy as the cheapest and most appropriate technology for South Africa. This research also clearly showed that nuclear was too expensive. When the argument in favour of renewable energy and against nuclear is so clear, it seems like only corruption and vested interests could be propelling nuclear forward. What does remain clear is that any attempt to push ahead with nuclear will be faced with massive resistance at all levels. After all, it is our future that is as stake.

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