17 February 2008

Nuclear power - “Consultation, what consultation?”

Thuyspunt, the middle penninsular is one of the proposed sites for a nuclear power station.
It is within an stone's throw of Oyster Bay and spitting distance from St Francis Bay, when the South Westerly wind blows.
Do we want a nuclear power station on our doorstep? Definitely not!

I am beginning to get the distinct impression that the term “consultation” in South Africa means different things to different people.

When Eskom and the politicians announce that they are going to consult on important issues, it in fact means they are going to tell you what they are going to do. Yes, you can have your say and you can even voice your opposition, but that is all irrelevant – they are going to do it anyway.

Early last year Eskom announced that the price we pay for electricity was cheap, in comparison with the rest of the world and needed to be adjusted accordingly. The reality is that the revenue from the increased tariff was needed to fund capital projects, like pebble bed nuclear reactors. They said they would be initiating a process of consultation with the public to increase the rates by 18%. They have recently announced that the increase will now be 14% - so much for consultation.

Given the fact that Eskom’s appeal to consumers to achieve a 10% reduction in power consumption, has been exceeded, it means that income wise they will be back to square one – do the maths. So where will the money for capital projects come from now? What will the next surprise be?

Now let’s take this principle to the nuclear power station debate.

I have in front of me a document from Acer (Africa) the environmental consultants headed “ESKOM – ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT (EIA: 12/12/20/944) FOR A PROPOSED NUCLEAR POWER STATION AND ASSOCIATED INFRASTRUCTURE”, “DRAFT SCOPING REPORT” for “PUBLIC REVIEW AND COMMENT” dates 28 January 2008. The project documentation can be obtained on the Eskom web site –

When you read this documentation you can only get the impression that the process is far from complete and still requires in depth consultation before a final decision is made.

When you hear the politicians and bureaucrats talking, it is as though the decision has already been made. The CEO of Eskom announced last week that the second nuclear power plant will probably be built at Atlantis near Cape Town, but does not rule out some of the other sites.

One could even be excused of coming up with conspiracy theories about deliberate black outs, with the vested interests and the amount of money involved in this development. Inconvenience the public enough and any alternative will become palatable.

Nuclear fuel processing is "sacrosanct" to South Africa, and it "will happen",
Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica said in November last year, while
addressing media after government and private institutions from South Africa and
Japan signed a range of memorandum of understandings (MoUs), dealing with
technology transfer and the supply of precious metals.

She stated
that "I would think that the involvement of Toshiba [Power Systems], which has
the technology that would be required, is an indication that there will be a
partnership" Toshiba Power Systems has nuclear fuel production technology, as
well as nuclear fuel reprocessing technologies, both of which the South African
government has expressed interest in.Sonjica also spoke firmly of South Africa's
nuclear fuel production ambitions. "We are going to beneficiate uranium in South
Africa," she stressed. "That is sacrosanct."

She said that
the agreements would result in investment in South Africa, but did not give a

South Africa was planning on building at least five
nuclear power stations by 2025, to produce 20 000 MW.
Government wanted to
ensure that the country had enough feedstock to fuel these plants. The country
had traditionally been one of the biggest uranium producers in the world, and
was looking to start enriching uranium. South Africa had before enriched
uranium, while the apartheid government was in power . (Source:
Engineering News and Mining Weekly from an email circulated by CANE)
By the way this is the same minister who when presenting her ten point plan to Parliament to save electricity suggested, “Go to sleep earlier so you can grow and be cleverer”. She subsequently denied this saying her comment was taken out of context, but Hansard, the official Parliamentary records exposed the lie.

What of costs and vested interests. The following is an extract from the Wall Street Journal of Tuesday November 13 circulated by Pelindaba Working Group a member of the national Coalition Against Nuclear Energy.

The U.S. in principle supports South Africa's effort to become a nuclear-fuel
provider and sees promise in its new reactor, said U.S. Assistant Secretary for
Nuclear Energy Dennis Spurgeon. Its efforts highlight Washington's calls for an
international agreement to limit enrichment and reprocessing technologies to a
select group of nations in return for help in developing nuclear power
, he said. He added the U.S. expects South Africa, which has been
plagued by rolling blackouts, plans to add 40,000 megawatts of capacity in the
next 25 years and half ofthat is expected to come from nuclear-power plants.
South Africa's state-owned power utility Eskom Holdings Ltd. at present has two
aging nuclear generators, the only such commercial facilities in Africa.

Much of South Africa's effort is focused on a tiny, low-cost reactor being developed on
the coastline just north of Cape Town. The design has drawn the attention of the
U.S. Department of Energy, which has awarded a $3.7 million grant to study its
potential in other areas. Mr. Spurgeon said the technology is one of a dozen
designs being considered by a $250 million U.S. initiative that aims to bring
small-scale nuclear reactors to developing countries.

The technology is being developed by Pebble Bed Modular Reactor Ltd., which is 15% owned by Westinghouse and the remainder by the South African government and state-owned Eskom.

Proponents said the pebble bed, once commercialized, can be built more
quickly and inexpensively -- in two years for about $500 million. Others are
more dubious about its prospects. Critics cite significant delays and a run-up
in costs since plans for the pilot reactor were first made in 1998.

What we are seeing, I believe, is bigger than just a solution to resolve the rolling black outs in South Africa.

The development of the pebble bed modular reactors has the interest and backing of the developed nations and the large multinationals, who have already made big financial investments in the process. This is new and as yet untested technology, which I am sure the citizens of developed nations will not want on their doorstep and would resist with great vigour. So why not make Africa the “guinea pig” – if it’s a success here will be a lot of money to be made, if not who cares its only Africa.
All this begs the question, are we going through a legitimate process of consultation or are we just through the motions?


The Fool said...

Why not put in some wind turbines, that picture looks pretty windy, or if you don't want big turbines put in lots of solar panels, come on both of those power sources are certainly better than nuclear.

The Fool

Max-e said...

The Fool - you are so right, there are so many alternatives and yes the place is very windy - I would prefer to live with wind turbines rather than the threat of nuclear contamination. Eskom and our politicians though seem intent on nuclear power.

RuneE said...

I have no problems with seeing you points - ALL of them. Africa (and parts of other continents) have been test-beds for very much the last couple of centuries.

I am against nuclear-power, but I can afford to be since I come from a country with plenty of hydro-electric power and gas to burn (if we choose to). There has been talk about investigating a possible Thorium-based technology, but that is as far as I can see totally untested (we have of course one of the worlds largest, known Thorium-resources).

Maybe all that just makes me a hypocrite.

Old Wom Tigley said...

It would be a shame to seen anything in that view.

Max-e said...

Rune, I think you can count your blessings, with the resources Norway has for the generation of power.

We have an abundance of coal, but the reserves will eventually run out, so alternative renewable sources should be considered. I still feel there is a big risk in nuclear power. The body of evidence shows unacceptable levels of contamination in most places it has been used.

I am not at all clued up on thorium, but I believe it is safer than uranium.

I don't believe your views make you a hypocrite. Thanks fot the comments

Max-e said...

Thanks for comments Tom

skinnylittleblonde said...

Eke....it really sounds like the writings on the wall. It just seems screwed up to take area so magnificent and taint it like that. I recently read an article in Discover magazine basically talking about how the US with all the coal burning power plants are doing more harm to our environment than nuclear plants. I couldn't help but think big picture vs. little picture/ long term vs. short term. We have got to find better methods of conservation. Unfortunately, consumerism & commercialism don't always go hand-in-hand with conservation.

Speaking of consumerism, I thought I'd let you know that the boots you picked had the spin to win... they are the ones i got ;) Good Choice!

Max-e said...

skinnylittleblonde, i suppose there are pro's and con's with whatever option one chooses - personally I am anti-nuke because of the risks and disasterous effects of contamination - especially if it is on my doorstep.

Enjoy the boots - you made a good choice :)

Ackworth Born said...

we grew up in the 60s thinking we could change the world and make politicians think about the consequences - now we are in our 60s and feel none of the lessons have been learnt and politicians and big business continue to ride rough-shod and are deaf to all protests while pretending to "consult".

It ain't just in Africa.

Digital Flower Pictures said...

I am willing to look at anything that doesn't need oil or coal for that matter. I live within about 50-60 miles of Nuke Plants to the southwest and 80 miles to East.

It's not so bad once you get used to it. ;)

Max-e said...

Hi Gerald, you are so right, but we are going to give them a run for their money.

Max-e said...

Digital Flower Pictures when I think of nuclear power stations I think of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Sellafield, Dounreay ......... to name a few.

If a power station is built at Thuyspunt, near Cape St Francis, I think I will sell my property and move on. Despite all the assurances from the so called experts, the body of evidence shows a different picture.

There are a lot of other cleaner options that can be considered.

Vienna for Beginners said...

I have been to the Ukraine, and I really ached for that poor country: The Chernobyl desaster hangs like a shadow everywhere. The fruits, the vegetables, the fish, I felt myself as if somewhere on the Mediterranean. It all tasted so good, yet who will ever know how contaminated all of this is.
Austria does not produce nuclear power, yet there are power plants right at our borders. What irony!