It is nearly one year since the earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. As a result of this meltdown, a 30km evacuation zone was triggered and 150 000 people within that radius have since had to leave their homes, and sometimes their pets, behind. They will not be able to return in their lifetimes. To get some idea of what a town without people looks like, you can check out Greenpeace Africa’s exhibition online, or Jan Smith’s photographs which are being exhibited in Cape Town this week.
Less than a week after this disaster the South African government committed to building six new nuclear reactors in South Africa. This was not only completely tactless and callous, it was also the most expensive and dangerous option to choose.
Greenpeace Africa is currently campaigning for the South African government to stop its plans for six new nuclear reactors. They argue that “reliable renewable energy is abundant, more affordable, and much safer” and that “nuclear power is inherently unsafe and totally unnecessary”. They have produced an excellent report titled ‘Lessons from Fukushima” which is well worth reading.
Why am I opposed to nulcear?
1. Nuclear is incredibly expensive. Government’s starting costs are estimated at R1-trillion, and those are just the starting costs. Many reactors take a long time to build and have lengthly delays. Some take many decades to build. Because nuclear stations take time to build, they will not delivery our energy needs as a country now. When government tells you that it will, they are simply not telling the truth. We are already making costly mistakes investing in coal, and the risks of corruption involved in such a huge tender/budget are simply depressing to think about.
2. Nuclear power is not a solution to climate change. Why? Because there is only so much capacity to build nuclear. For example, Greenpeace argues that “even if we quadrupled the number of nuclear reactors in the world, it would only result in a 6% reduction in global CO2 emissions by 2020”.
Image showing radiation moving out from the site of the nuclear meltdown. Source: sustainabletransition.blogspot.com
3. The waste is incredibly dangerous as is evidenced by the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima. At present South Africa has the only nuclear power station in Africa, and it’s situated in Koeberg which is less than 30km outside of Cape Town. In Fukushima, the radiation from nuclear meltdown did not disperse in neat concentric circles, and in Cape Town’s windy environment it will also be irregular.
The emergency action plan for this station can be read here, and it concerns me that they took two years to provide this plan to the Koeberg Alert Alliance. In Fukushima, ordinary response services had not been trained to deal with a nuclear meltdown and many of them had to expose themselves to high levels of radiation in order to assist others. What would happen in Cape Town?
At present the low-level waste from Koeberg is being buried in Vaalputs, despite the community having no input in this decision.
All high-level waste is buried at Koeberg itself. According to the Koeberg Alert Alliance site, “Koeberg produces about 30 tons of high level waste per year, and all of it is currently stored at Koeberg – over 1000 tons. If not stored properly, The waste can melt, and also ‘go critical’, which would result in a nuclear explosion.” Government does not have a plan to dispose of the waste safely after the five-year safe storage time. Now they plan to extend it to forty years.
The government’s choice to go with nuclear is not in the best interests of the South African public, and it will be poor people who are most severely affected if there is a nuclear meltdown at Koeberg.
4. There are better, safer, and cleaner alternatives that will create as many jobs. Over the last five years, 35 times more renewable energy was installed than nuclear power. South Africa has ample wind and solar power capacity.
If we increased our energy efficiency measures by pursuing renewables, we wouldn’t need nuclear. We should be asking government to use the sun and the wind more, not accept lazy and dangerous alternatives.
According to Greenpeace Africa, “148 000 sustainable jobs would be created by implementing a just transition to renewable energy through Greenpeace’s Energy [R]evolution scenario in South Africa.” For some cool facts about renewables, click here.
I believe that we don’t need more nuclear power in South Africa and that there are better options out there to ensure that we have energy in the future. I hope that you’ll follow the debate and get involved when it comes time to stop this unnecessary construction.