Three reasons to oppose electricity generation from nuclear reactors

Cape Times, Mike Kantey 7 May 2012.

(Editorial note: Whilst this is written on behalf of an activist organisation, hence the passion – the stated facts can be checked as they are all in the public domain. )

How ironic it must seem to the families of so many victims of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl that John Walmsley’s reasonable argument in favour of nuclear energy should appear on the anniversary of that fateful day of April 1986 (“Nuclear power outstrips other energy sources in the race for long-term answers”, Cape Times Insight, April 26).
Unlike Dr Walmsley, however, the national Coalition Against Nuclear Energy (see www.cane.org.za) is quite simply opposed to the production of electricity from nuclear energy for three reasons:
1. The long-term negative impact on human health from unscheduled emissions, effluents, incidents, and accidents of the scale of Fukushima.
2. The unnecessary expense.
3. The unsolved problem with regard to the management of high-level nuclear waste, or spent fuel.
Studies of Eskom’s environmental science reports to the national nuclear regulator have shown consistent excessive emissions from Koeberg nuclear power station of caesium-137 in liquid effluent and airborne gases. In 1994, for example, nearly two million becquerels of caesium-137 were released. Although European studies (Cardis et al; German Childhood Cancer Registry) have shown a correlation between increased cancers from nuclear power station emissions, no epidemiological study has been performed on Cape Town.
Moreover, the ageing Koeberg nuclear power station is 28km from the fast-growing city and exercises a 16km exclusion zone for further development to the north. Because the city is surrounded by mountains and the open sea, a major accident on the scale of Fukushima (where evacuation was advised for up to 80km by the US government), would allow rapid transport only on the N1, the N2, and the coastal road past Gordon’s Bay. Given the continued urban growth to the north, we call for a phase-out of the Koeberg nuclear power station and a refusal to grant further licences at that site.
With regard to the unnecessary expense of the “nuclear fleet”, the proposed 1 600 MW AREVA European pressurised reactor has run into serious delays and cost overruns at the Olkiluoto site in Finland and also at its Flamanville site in France. Projected costs for two of these reactors are in the region of R100 billion, or R300bn for all three projected sites in SA.
There are further plans in SA to enrich our own uranium (R20bn), manufacture the fuel assemblies (R30bn) and reprocess the spent fuel over the long term, providing a complete “nuclear fuel cycle”. This would entail not only a massive waste of public funds but an enormous amount of nett energy consumption, as much as one reactor alone for uranium enrichment. Indeed, in its in Industrial Policy Action Plan 2, the Department of Trade and Industries calculated a total bill of R1.3 trillion.
The issue of the long-term management of spent fuel has to be the most irksome problem in relation to the pursuit of a nuclear energy path. Nowhere since 1942 has a permanent solution been found.
As far as the larger nuclear plan is concerned, at table 18 of the Department of Energy’s integrated resource plan for electricity 2010-2030, revision 2, final report, published in March last year (the IRP2010, page 43), a mix of wind, solar photovoltaic, gas, and concentrated solar power is provided that allows for just under 60 gigawatts of power, as opposed to the current 40GW. Note that this scenario excludes nuclear power. So, even the department’s own projections allow for a perfectly workable and affordable plan without nuclear power.
A figure of 60GW is in perfect accord with the projections of the independent energy research centre at the University of Cape Town (Harald Winkler at al: electricity supply options, sustainable development and climate change options: case studies for SA, published by the Unep Riso Centre in Denmark, September 2007, page 34, figure 11).
Given the stated intention of the mining companies, however, to provide their own sources of power, as well as the government policy of allowing for 30 percent participation by independent power producers (none of whom favour nuclear power production); given equally that higher electricity prices will stimulate greater energy efficiencies and electricity savings through, for example, co-generation (or waste-heat usage), there is every reason to suspect that Eskom’s gung-ho electricity projections are wildly overstated – as they were in the 1980s under PW Botha.
This led to the unfortunate predicament in the late 1980s and early 1990s of an oversupply of electricity and a huge discount to the Richards Bay smelter, to name only one beneficiary. According to business report of October 26 2007, BHP Billiton used 1 500 MW at its two aluminium smelters in Richards Bay.
We reject the vain pursuit of a nuclear energy path on the part of an exclusive few and powerful set of beneficiaries and their allies.
Despite our objections and exposure of countless fatal flaws in the 2011 revised draft environmental impact report, Eskom will be shortly releasing a few “revised specialists reports” in an effort to placate the Eastern Cape chokka industry.
While exhausting all remedies, we will not stop at the obviously pre-arranged positive record of decision for the Thyspunt plant, but will harry the nuclear industry all the way to the Constitutional Court, if necessary, while exercising our democratic right to protest and lobby the necessary authorities.
Despite R16bn of covert expenditure and huge corruption, we beat the pebble bed modular reactor into oblivion.

Kantey is a writer, researcher and environmental activist.

Advertisements