The South African government would be taking the country down a very reckless path should it go through with plans to invest in nuclear power stations, according to Greenpeace Africa. The awareness group has argued that the planned development will be too costly for the country, and may have a detrimental impact on the environment.
Government has faced major criticism since its announcement of a bilateral agreement with Russia, which will possibly include the development of nuclear plants in the country. DA leader, Helen Zille, has been particularly vocal in her opposition to the deal. She questioned the motives behind President Jacob Zuma’s decision to pursue nuclear energy, particularly when the National Development Plan (NDP) viewed it as ‘cost effective’.
Greenpeace senior climate and energy campaign manager, Melita Steele, said the development of the nuclear stations would be a lengthy and costly initiative, which would not be able to address the countries immediate need for energy. She noted that government was planning to build up to six stations across the country, with each taking between 10 and 15 years to construct.
A single station is expected to cost anywhere between R400 billion and R1 trillion to build. This means that taxpayers may be forced to foot the hefty bill through electricity prices, which could potentially double as a result.
The deal has also raised concerns surrounding the disposal of nuclear waste, with the country lacking a proper long term solution to the issue.
“It is hugely concerning, and it is actually stored at the moment at Koeberg. We would be looking at a huge increase (in nuclear waste) from these power stations,” she said.
At present, the country has a solitary nuclear waste storage facility at Vaalputs, Northern Cape, which stores low to intermediate level waste. High level waste is stored on site at Koeberg power station. Steele said it was likely that similar on site storage would take place at the various nuclear stations, should they be built.
“It can take up to 240 000 years for years for high level waste to become non-radioactive, and it is a huge concern,” she explained.
The nuclear power plants will require the use of uranium, an extremely scare and volatile recourse. Steele stressed that the mining of uranium would come with huge risks, due to its radioactive nature.
“There have been a lot of stories in SA where communities having been living close to mine dumps, and have actually suffered as a result of radioactive activities,” she suggested.
She said that government was also considering the process of uranium enrichment, viewed as a major step in the development of nuclear weapons. Iran has faced particular criticism from the West for its uranium-enrichment program, and Steele said there were always concerns when a country looked towards it.
Despite the countries urgent need for alternative forms of energy, she insisted that any form on nuclear power, or even shale gas through fracking, would not meet those immediate needs. Instead, she suggested the best option would be to continue pursuing renewable energy; a cost effective process that was delivering on time. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)