Global environmentalist group Greenpeace is taking South African Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson to court over her failure to update South Africa’s nuclear regulations.
Greenpeace Africa senior climate and energy campaign manager Melita Steele tells Engineering News that the application was filed in February this year and a court date is yet to be finalised.
Steele explains that the Department of Energy’s (DoE’s) emergency fund for a nuclear disaster at Koeberg is currently R2.4-billion. If reparation requirements amount to more than R2.4-billion, the money would probably have to come from South Africa’s fiscus. Therefore, South African taxpayers, facing the possible, but sudden increase in tax, are also exposed to financial risk.
Steele says Joemat-Pettersson’s inaction in this regard has violated the national Nuclear Regulator Act, which she believes is negligent, especially when the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011– during which a tsunami caused the meltdown of three nuclear generators at the power plant, in Japan – is taken into consideration.
Although the full cost of the Fukushima disaster is yet to be tallied, Steele highlights that R68-billion has been set aside for the reconstruction of the plant, with R461-billion listed by Japan electricity service provider Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) for permanent indemnification and provisional compensation.
Steele tells Engineering News that, since 2013, Greenpeace lawyers have sent multiple letters of complaint and recommendation to the DoE, to which it has not responded.
Laying Down the Law
Steele points out that the National Nuclear Regulator Act requires the Minister of Energy, upon recommendation of the Board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR), and in consultation with the Minister of Finance, to determine the level of financial security that needs to be provided by holders of nuclear installation licences and the manner in which such security has to be provided.
The levels of financial security should be revised every five years, according to the Act. However, these levels were last revised on May 7, 2004, despite recommendations from the NNR in the interim.
These determinations to revise the levels of financial security have been made so that, in terms of the Act, holders of nuclear installation licences are held responsible for any liabilities or damage caused by their nuclear facilities.
Steele says the updated recommendations of the NNR with regard to how much money should be set aside for a nuclear accident have been kept confidential by the NNR.
The Bigger Picture
As an amicus of Greenpeace, environmental and social justice nonprofit organisation Earthlife Africa Johannesburg energy policy officer Dominique Doyle tells Engineering News that the respective organisations are trying to show how poorly nuclear regulations are formulated and enforced and to reveal the risks of nuclear procurement.
She notes that Greenpeace and Earthlife Africa denounce the enormous costs of nuclear procurement, which are estimated at more than R1-trillion. Moreover, both Doyle and Steele criticise the lack of transparency characterises nuclear deals, suggesting that such expensive tenders encourage corruption.
Further, neither Greenpeace nor Earthlife Africa regards South Africa’s nuclear waste management solutions as adequate for nuclear waste, the most radioactive of which is stored at nuclear power stations. The organisations claim that this is also not a long-term solution, as the radioactive waste can last for tens of thousands of years, therefore creating a significant timeframe during which misfortune could occur.
This, says Doyle, defeats the argument that nuclear power is clean, noting that uranium mining also adds to the detrimental environmental impact of nuclear energy.
She explains that few new nuclear projects are being established in economically developed nations, particularly in countries where there is no significant nuclear lobby, with several decommissioning projects currently under way in Britain, Italy and the US. Doyle ascribes this to the developed world’s realisation that nuclear energy is an undesirable power source and suggests that this has forced nuclear companies to focus on developing countries to prosper.
Further, Doyle does not believe that nuclear is the best noncoal alternative, arguing that South Africa does not need baseload power as much as it needs flexible electricity supply to meet demand fluctuation.
“While the nuclear lobby is feeding off the noncoal movement, the fact is that South Africa is developing Medupi and Kusile, two of the largest coal-fired power stations in the world, which must be established. This is where our baseload will come from, but what we also need is peaking power.”
Steele explains that the problem with (the notion of) base load power is that it is an inflexible power source that immovably produces at a fixed rate, regardless of lower demand.
She highlights the Integrated Resource Plan(IRP), which in 2010 recommended the procurement of 9 600 MW of additional nuclear power by 2030. The IRP was updated in January 2014, when smaller, more flexible investments in energy were recommended for the short term.