July 04, 2020

Environment and religious groups stand together against nuclear energy

The Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI) and Earthlife have sent a letter to the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy urging the government to abandon all plans for new nuclear energy programmes.

This comes after the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) announced its intentions to immediately procure 2500MW of new nuclear power by 2024. DMRE has also indicated that it will embark on a 20-year extension of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant’s life, to be completed by 2024 which is when Koeberg was due to be decommissioned.

The department has stated that it also intends to procure a new Multi-Purpose Reactor and a Centralised Interim Radioactive Waste Storage Facility. Currently high level radioactive waste (HLRW), typically spent nuclear fuel, is stored in on-site pools at Koeberg and grows at a rate of 30 tons per year.

“South Africa does not need nuclear in its energy mix. It is a costly and unsafe power generation option.”

The department’s surprise decision flies in the face of the judgment handed down by the Western Cape High Court on 26 April 2017 halting former President Zuma’s nuclear deal. It also ignores a sworn undertaking from former Energy Minister David Mahlobo in November 2017.

Earthlife and SAFCEI’s attorney Adrian Pole said “In court papers filed on his behalf, Mahlobo confirmed on oath that he appreciated that his failure to comply with the judgment would be unlawful and would result in contempt of court proceedings being instituted against him. The Minister also undertook to act in accordance with the judgment, to take no steps. In our view, the current Minister of Energy is also bound by this undertaking,” adds Pole.

He said “The effect of the nuclear deal judgment is that no new nuclear procurement can commence until such time as the Minister of Energy – with the concurrence of the national energy regulator (NERSA) – makes a lawful determination under section 34 (s34) of the Electricity Regulation Act that new nuclear generation capacity is required and should be procured. The judgment also reinforced that the s34 decision-making process must be procedurally fair, and that this would require meaningful public participation prior to such a decision being made.

Pole said, “Since no S34 determination has been gazetted relating to 2500MW of new electricity generating capacity to be derived from nuclear sources, and no public participation process has yet been conducted, Minister Mantashe and the DMRE will be acting in constructive contempt of the judgment if they immediately proceed with the procurement process.”

SAFCEI and Earthlife are calling on the Minister to confirm that he will (among other things) comply with the April 2017 nuclear judgement and honour Mahlobo’s November 2017 undertaking. Both reserved their rights, including the right to approach the courts for urgent interdictory relief should this become necessary.

Earthlife and SAFCEI question the desirability of, and need for, any new nuclear power programme. The organisations encourage Minister Mantashe and the DMRE to rather focus on renewable energy options, which they believe are better suited to sustainably meeting South Africa’s energy needs in a post-COVID South Africa while also addressing the climate emergency.

SAFCEI, a multi-faith organization representing African traditional healers, Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Quaker, and a wide range of Christian denominations, points out that the pandemic has reduced economic activities and slashed demand for electricity.

“Previous demand modelling no longer holds true. Even post contagion, the demand for electricity is unlikely to return to previous levels, due to business activities having been lost. At this juncture in which South Africa’s economy is profoundly impacted and demand for energy is down, there is decreased fiscal space for large capital projects,” SAFCEI noted in an earlier submission to Parliament on the 2020 Appropriations Bill.

Earthlife’s Makoma Lekalakala said, “when we factor-in the costs of nuclear fuel, construction, radioactive waste management and end-of-life decommissioning, nuclear power stations ultimately end-up producing very expensive electricity. Rather than burdening current and future generations of South Africans with higher electricity costs and inter-generational nuclear cost burdens, the DMRE should be focussing on encouraging more investment in agile renewable energy sources. This approach could also greatly benefit previously disadvantaged communities, if government would promote a greater share in the ownership of and the benefits derived from this market,” says. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant negative impact on South Africa’s economy, and as a result, electricity demand has plunged by roughly one-third. Even if projected electricity demand post-COVID requires investment in new generation capacity in the short and medium term, nuclear energy cannot meet this need given the long lead-in time (often a decade or longer, assuming no delays).

SAFCEI’s Francesca de Gasparis.said: “We encourage the DMRE to rather focus on creating an enabling environment for more renewable sources that can deliver affordable energy in the short and medium terms, while also helping to ensure a just energy transition.”

The SAFCEI submission to Parliament argues that South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) had not envisioned new nuclear before 2030. In SAFCEI’s submission it is claimed that at the time that the IRP was released, the wrong version was gazetted. The error was rectified, but it seems that in announcing an intention to proceed with procuring the 2500MW, the Minister is adhering to the incorrect version, the submission declares.

It calls on Parliament to exercise its Constitutional oversight mandate rigorously in respect of proposed capital projects in the energy sector to ensure that the Department of Energy and Eskom are transparent about what financing mechanisms they intend to use for the proposed 2500MW new nuclear build.

SAFCEI expresses concern about what these large, costly capital projects would imply for the public purse and for a more sustainable energy future. “Our position is that the pandemic should not reverse sustainable development and just transition objectives, but can be an opportunity to bring about an energy mix that is less coal intensive and less nuclear dependent.”

“South Africa does not need nuclear in its energy mix. It is a costly and unsafe power generation option,” SAFCEI said in its earlier submission to Parliament.

According to the submission, operational wind farms are being told that they would periodically be required to curtail their supply to the grid during the national lockdown in line with the force majeure (act of God) clause in their contracts.

While the Covid-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for South Africa to make policy choices which support the move towards less fossil fuel dependence, South African officials are moving in the opposite direction, the submission states. It has been reported that Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Barbara Creecy has gazetted sulphur dioxide minimum emission standards that are twice as weak as the previous standards.

The Life After Coal Campaign presented research to the minister and the department which indicated that 3 300 premature deaths would be caused by altering the emissions standards. The Life After Coal Campaign’s research highlights that these emissions standards will increase the risk of respiratory infections, strokes, and diabetes, which are not desired health outcomes and even less so during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

In its parliamentary submission SAFCEI also raised the negative impact presented by Eskom. “As a major public entity, Eskom is meant to be financially independent of the fiscus, but sustained state capture, inflated contracts and a failure to do maintenance have resulted in a crisis at the public utility. Unresolved issues of state capture and corruption at Eskom persist. Poor supply chain management and contracting practices remain an issue. Repeated bailouts to Eskom are resulting in money that could have been spent on education, health or other areas of spending being diverted.”

The organization looks to Parliament to ensure that Eskom is more transparent about making loan agreements and contracts publicly available.

“When Treasury sets requirements that public entities must meet when they receive bail outs or obtain loan guarantees, compliance with these requirements should be monitored as part of Parliament’s oversight role. Officials in public entities not meeting the requirements should be called before committees to account for their failure to comply.

“SAFCEI would like to see the South African government making the effort to ensure meaningful public participation that guarantees citizens the opportunity to provide input into the decisions that affect them.

By Moira Levy

 

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  • Author: Moira Levy
Last modified on Sunday, 14 June 2020 18:08

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