February 17, 2019

Energy Committee has no real answers to challenges on nuclear waste

The Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) has expressed strong disappointment at the recent Portfolio Committee on Energy’s (PCE’s) response to public submissions on the Department of Energy’s (DoE) Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).

The PCE’s report, released late in November following public submissions in October, has left SAFCEI greatly concerned that the Committee is not asking the pertinent questions, and “had not paid attention to what civil society had to say,” said SAFCEI’s Communications Officer Natasha Adonis.

The Committee’s feedback seemed to miss the point of what citizens said at the hearings.

She explained citizens had come from all over the Western Cape to appeal to the Committee to take on board its concerns about high-level nuclear waste, while community representatives from areas surrounding Vaalputs, raised issues about the impacts of low-to-medium level waste for the Northern Cape. “Parliament has once again failed to act in the people’s best interest, and delivered no persuasive arguments against nuclear energy”.

The Committee’s feedback seemed to miss the point of what citizens said at the hearings, Adonis concluded. The Committee sent out a message that indicated it was in no doubt that “nuclear technology is the cleanest, safest and cheapest technology.”

SAFCEI’s Energy Justice Coordinator, Vainola Makan, warned that “Over and above the high costs of building a nuclear power plant – which are often marred by delays and related cost overruns – there are further costs associated with maintaining and securing the plant, as well as dealing with waste.”

Makan, who recently held SAFCEI’s People’s Power Learning Fest said, “We are learning that none of the current nuclear waste disposal solutions are real solutions, because the radioactive waste will always be there, and it will always be a risk to all things living in the areas where they are buried. At Koeberg, for example, the concentration of high-level radioactive waste continues to increase, and there is still no clear plan for dealing with it.”

Wellington Mthobisi Sibanda, a Commissioner of Ecumenical Education and Formation at the World Council of Churches, said, “The PCE’s report was disappointing, but it was not unexpected. We had hoped that the Committee would critically evaluate the input it received from the public thus far, and realise that there is still so much that needs to be discussed and debated.”

Said Sibanda, “The MPs who seem to have had the most influence in this report, are those same MPs that approved the illegal nuclear deal. These MPs have never called for, or held any public enquiry or hearings into the nuclear deal or any other issue, for that matter, in their term of office. Are these decision-makers really taking the time to understand the issues the people face? This was their one chance to show they can act in public interest, but they failed.”

Ndivile Mokoena, member of the Justice and Peace Ministry of the Catholic Church and Project Coordinator for Gender CC SA’s Women for Climate Justice said, “The PCE report to the DoE still supports business as usual, despite the long-term mitigation scenarios. It ignores climate change challenges and the latest report on 1.5 degree ambitions. And while it acknowledges nuclear and coal as important elements of South Africa’s energy mix, there is no emphasis to support renewable alternatives that will reduce our carbon emissions.”

SAFCEI’s Executive Director, Francesca de Gasparis added, “Unfortunately, the PCE’s report does not inspire confidence that we are heading in the right direction – not in addressing energy justice issues in this country, or climate change, for that matter. I don’t believe that they have comprehensively unpacked the issues that South Africans are dealing (and will have to deal) with.”

“Also, it’s contradictory for the Committee to say that the new IRP should be ‘flexible, adjustable and the cost to consumer has to be as low as possible,’ but then goes on to state that the IRP should be explicit about coal and nuclear as important elements of the country’s energy mix. That the Minister of Energy fired the entire Board of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (NECSA) on Friday for poor governance, suggests that the issues related to corruption and nuclear energy run far deeper,” said de Gasparis.

Pastor Neville Van Rooy, a citizen from the Karoo who presented at the IRP hearings, said: “The report’s sentiment echoes that of the corrupt government we thought we had escaped. It seems that they are once again choosing profits over the wellbeing of the citizens of this country.” According to Van Rooy, one of the biggest threats to the region’s precious groundwater resources includes attempts at uranium mining and shale gas exploration (the latter is recommended in the National Development Plan, as an alternative to coal.)

Said Van Rooy, “Communities would welcome an energy summit, to “comprehensively discuss and map out the energy future for South Africa,” but these processes will need to drastically shift from what we have had up to now. Processes must be transparent and inclusive of all citizens, particularly those who are most affected.”

From a press release issued by Natasha Adonis, on behalf of SAFCEI.

See PCE’s report at https://safcei.org/portfolio-committee-on-energy-pce-report-on-integrated-resource-plan-irp-2018-public-hearings

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  • Author: Moira Levy
Last modified on Monday, 10 December 2018 22:54

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