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Why I don’t want any more nuclear power in SA

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:

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.


  • Jennifer is a feminist, activist and advocate for women's rights. She has a Masters in Politics from Rhodes University, and a Masters in Creative Writing from UCT. In 2010 she started a women's writing project called 'My First Time'. It focuses on women's stories of significant first time experiences. Buy the book on the site or via Modjaji Books. Jen's first novel, The Peculiars, came out in February 2016 and is published by Penguin. Get it in good book stores, and on


  1. EnviRian EnviRian 11 March 2012

    We have incredibly long, very windy coastlines (for wind generators), 80% of our country gets sun more than 90% of daytime – we are in the very best position to roll out massive renewable energy plants.
    What utter short-sightedness not to do it. The world will pitch in if we do.

  2. Rory Short Rory Short 11 March 2012

    I think one solution to the nukes or no nukes debate is that it must be legislated that every pro-nuke person or person working on or profiting from the nuclear generation of electricity must live within at least 30 kms of a nuclear power station. Pro-nuke lobbyists who do no live within 30 kms of a nuclear power station have zero credibility on this issue as far as I am concerned.

  3. Enough Said Enough Said 12 March 2012

    Good idea Rory “every pro-nuke person or person working on or profiting from the nuclear generation of electricity must live within at least 30 kms of a nuclear power station”

    Even if it does not turn into a Three Mile Island/Chernobyl/Fukushima, they can still taste their own medicine:

    Reasonable Doubt: Children living near nuclear facilities face an increased risk of cancer.


  4. ecomurph ecomurph 12 March 2012

    With a half life of 200 000 years one tonne of uranium will decay to 30kg after 1 million years. 1kg will remain after 2 million years,

    1 kg of plutonium can kill 4 million people.

  5. neil goodwin neil goodwin 12 March 2012

    To Richard Becker and all the other 19th Century thinkers here. So nuclear is the long term solution right? So, what happens when the uranium and plutonium run out? Erm…????? Exactly. Whereas wind and solar will last well into our next evolutionary shift. The one where we finally turn our backs on GDP, and consumer confidence etc, and all that guff as markers for human progress. The one where we learn to curb our waste, where the true costs of something are determined by their effects on the environment and health, where you won’t need all those gigawatts to burn up the world’s resources, because humankind has finally learned (probably the hard way) that they’re not so much scarce as finite. Doh!!

  6. Enough Said Enough Said 12 March 2012

    I still think the CEOs and directors of the nuclear corporations in the Fukushima disaster, as well as government officials that endorsed nuke power in Japan, should be tried for crimes against humanity and the environment.

  7. Chris2 Chris2 12 March 2012

    The old adage that if a lie is repeated often enough it will be accepted as the truth may be relevant, twofold. First of all, no modern industrial economy can function properly – if at all – if electricity is not available when required. Wind is too fickle a source and can only be improved in conjunction with a very wide power transmission network plus very large installed over-capacity in individual windfarms, plus a large transmission capacity. With nuclear the installed capacity is what you get and the refueling and maintenance down times are reliably known. How many birds and bats would one be prepared to sacrifice?
    Solar cells suffer from the fact that the sun is only available during daytime and the output is very variable depending on the time of day and the weather conditions. Storage is an imperative, pump storage being the most efficient. Unfortunately we lack the necessary water and dam facilities.
    In Germany the decision to abandon nuclear by 2022 is primarily an emotional and political one, supported by an insidious misinformation campaign. The energy companies are hopping mad and claim that alternative energy sources only survive on massive subsidies. We’ll see whether this ends in triumph or tears. In history emotional policy decisions have not served Germany well. The alternative proponents are talking about a very dense power network with intelligent control which shuts off various classes of appliance in your home according to electricity…

  8. Chris2 Chris2 12 March 2012

    continued….. availability. And suddenly global warming is hardly mentioned; more gas will come from Russia.
    Apart from a revolutionary breakthrough in renewables or in fusion, nuclear is the only option which could provide energy for some 1000 years or more. The proviso is that fast breeder reactors have to be implemented that can unlock the 99% energy that remains in spent fuel from thermal reactors and at the same time burn up long-lived isotopes present in the latter.

  9. Enough Said Enough Said 12 March 2012


    Gemasolar Concentrated Solar Power achieves key milestone – 24 hours of uninterrupted supply

    Add to that wind, wave, ocean, biomass, hydro, geothermal, biogas….., all together 24/7 electricity for the most sohpisticated economy, 365 days per year.

    Nuclear is so backward its scary.

  10. ecomurph ecomurph 12 March 2012

    @ Chris

    The German government is ’emotional’ – and yet it is the energy companies that are ‘hopping mad’!

    Apparently “emotional policy decisions have not served Germany well” but no mention of what those were?

    And the usual pseudoscience TINA; “nuclear is the only option”.

  11. Chris2 Chris2 13 March 2012

    @ Enough Said
    Talk is cheap.
    The 19.2 MW – peak or average power. As a special feat they managed to do 24 hours, but they are hoping on 20 out of 24 hours, power not stipulated (MAYBE ENOUGH TO CHARGE A CELLPHONE at night). At 10 hectares nominally per megawatt, dream on. Koeberg generates more than 100 times the power of this solar plant, which would require 18500 hectares to replace the nuclear output. And after the next duststorm?
    Solar energy reaching us is rather dilute. To gather the amounts we consume, you have to go EXTENSIVE in area and you need storage, both expensive or simply not an option. In RSA Eskom has a hard time convincing us to go for solar geysers, even though there is a payback period in savings over several years.
    @ ecomurph
    No, nuclear is not the only option. How about connecting all gyms to the network and harvesting the spinning energy there. At 100 W a head or more …
    A concentrated form of solar energy is in sea waves, but with a very variable energy content over several days. We need a design for a wave-driven mechanical pump to pump seawater to an elevated dam on shore from where water is released back to sea through a generator as required. A decentralised solution for a number of coastal towns?
    Any solution must be both adequate and rational….

  12. 2B 2B 13 March 2012

    Oh dear. This article and these comments show a complete lack of understanding of nuclear power and how it works. And a lack of understanding of International politics!

    The German decision was a political one and had nothing to do with the safety of nuclear power. It had everything to do with the German government’s popularity and Russia’s ambitions in Eastern Europe.

  13. ecomurph ecomurph 13 March 2012

    Germany with 25GW renewables has about double the generation capacity of South Africa, yet at half the insolation (incident solar energy) its solar power can provide up to 25% of demand. A similar level of Renewable Energy here would supply 100% of our demand. The subsidies to achieve this level were nowhere near the R1trillion nuclear fission industry is demanding of our taxpayers money.

  14. ecomurph ecomurph 13 March 2012

    An Australian plan for 100% Renewable Energy by 2020.

    The principles include:
    *Australia’s energy is provided entirely from renewable sources at the end of the transition period.
    *All technological solutions employed are from proven, reliable technology which is commercially available.
    *The security and reliability of Australia’s energy supply is maintained or enhanced by the transition.
    *Food and water security are maintained or enhanced by the transition.
    *Australians continue to enjoy a high standard of living.
    *Social equity is maintained or enhanced by the transition.
    *Other environmental indices are maintained or enhanced by the transition

    6 transition plans cover the 6 sectors of energy, buildings, transport, land use, industrial processes and coal exports.

    It is achievable and affordable.

    • Designs a fully costed and detailed system of concentrated solar thermal plants and large scale wind farms
    • Proves that with commercially available and proven technologies renewable energy can power Australia within 10 years
    • Baseload energy supplied by renewable sources.
    • Affordable at $8 per household per week.
    • Launched in June 2010 and is open for debate.
    • The report was compiled by the University of Melbourne.
    • Concentrating Solar thermal (CSt) power with molten salt storage supplies 60%, wind supplies 40% of electricity, biomass and hydroelectricity backup (2%)

  15. Rich Rich 13 March 2012

    @rory short – and everyone who eats meat should live in an abattoir! Let’s all be silly.
    Personally I think nuclear technology will only lead to greater things. Unfortunately we are in the ‘dirty’ phase – like most of the gizmos we enjoy now mostly had an ‘dirty’ genesis.

  16. Enough Said Enough Said 14 March 2012

    Sorry nukes flukes, you are losing the battles and the war:

    Wind energy developers installed a record 41,000 megawatts of electricity-generating capacity in 2011, bringing the world total to 238,000 megawatts. With more than 80 countries now harnessing the wind, there is enough installed wind power capacity worldwide to meet the residential electricity needs of 380 million people at the European level of consumption.


  17. Enough Said Enough Said 14 March 2012

    Oh dear pro-nukies, more bad news:

    “From 2000 to 2008, nuclear energy dropped from 16.7% to 13.5% of global energy production, according to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2009. The 2010-11 preliminary report, expected to be released Wednesday, will show the downward trend has continued, according to study author Mycle Schneider. While nuclear energy production has steadily increased, its piece of the global electricity pie is shrinking compared to traditional sources such as coal and alternatives like wind and solar power.”

    Sorry, cannot help but grin from ear to ear: ;-) :-) :-)

  18. ecomurph ecomurph 14 March 2012

    @ Chris
    100% of demand covered by clean Renwable Energy or only 9,6GW of dirty nuclear for the same cost – but the nuclear fission demands all of that plus other perverse subsidies from government and needs exemptions from insurance responsibilities, while renewables only need a part subsidy. Why is dirty nuclear fission even up for discussion?

  19. Juaninno Juaninno 5 April 2012

    I have not read the entire thread but it occurs to me that we have large stocks of natural gas off the coast of Mozambique – why are we not in negotiations right now? Cheap, clean, quick and proven. What is the problem. Oh yes JZ and his various and sundry owners wont get the big kickbacks and shares in the Chinese companies… Also you cannot build things that go boom…
    Look at the people who make the decisions and follow the money and all becomes clear folks. You don’t really think the cANCer gives a damn about pollution do you? If they did the electrification of the Townships would have taken precedence over giving away Gigawatts to the Ausies to convert their Bauxite. THINK

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