Ferrial Adam
Ferrial Adam

It’s nuclear, it’s now and it’s happening — whether you like it or not

Eskom has recently announced that it will most likely be going ahead with South Africa’s second nuclear power station. The draft scoping report has been completed and it looks as if Koeberg might be the most likely site for the station.

Last week, French President Sarkozy visited South Africa and apparently spoke to President Mbeki about French companies’ involvement in nuclear power stations in South Africa. (One would think that after the arms-deal debacle they would just stay away.)

And this week we are being “blessed” with the presence of Patrick Moore. A proponent for nuclear energy, Moore will be travelling around South Africa telling people that nuclear is not all that bad — actually, he is saying that nuclear power is good and the way to go! This comes from someone who in the 1970s was a leading figure in Greenpeace campaigning against nuclear power.

There is nothing wrong with changing your mind — but at least have some compelling arguments for the change of opinion. Moore proposes that nuclear energy:

  • has a low contribution to global warming, as there is little greenhouse-gas emission;
  • could reduce the dependence on fossil fuels;
  • could generate a high amount of energy from a single plant; and
  • is available and not subject to fluctuations in energy production experienced with solar or wind energy.
  • Apart from the low emissions of greenhouse gases, the rest of the arguments are just deceitful. For starters, not pumping fumes into the air does not negate the fact that poisons would be dumped into the Earth’s soil and water. We have not yet found a solution to dealing with radioactive waste. Moore suggests that nuclear waste “is no more dangerous than many other chemicals. The trick is to keep it contained and limit our exposure to it.” Is he out of his tree? Has this man looked at how well we’ve done so far in containing harmful substances?

    The reckless manner in which industry has dealt with dangerous chemicals is proof that we cannot trust it to work with even more harmful substances in a responsible manner. Even with the best security and safety standards, accidents can still happen. In addition, it is foolish to compare nuclear waste to other chemicals. Unlike other substances, the waste from nuclear energy has to be looked after for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. So we may not give the Earth a death sentence by the climate-change noose, but by a lethal injection of nuclear waste instead. Either way it is still a death sentence!

    Notwithstanding the waste, nuclear power is just not sustainable. Not only does it take many years to develop a nuclear power station, but uranium (the energy source for nuclear power) is also in short supply. It is believed that the supply of uranium is estimated to last for only 30 to 60 years, depending on the demand. So in the short term the technology may be available, but in the long term it will also be subject to fluctuations. It just does not make business sense to invest billions in something that has such a short life span and that will be such a liability to the environment.

    And then what happens when the uranium is depleted and all we have left is nuclear waste? Hmm, I guess we could use the nuclear waste to make weapons! Well that will solve the problem of the waste for sure and then we could just nuke each other to death. Lovely, just lovely …