The Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (Safcei) on Tuesday said the development of a nuclear industry in South Africa would not provide a boost for society, the economy, job creation or the environment.
Safcei executive director Bishop Geoff Davies said nuclear development could end up costing several times more than renewable energy – which was currently declining in cost – while producing fewer jobs than other energy sources.
Davies further noted that nuclear energy could cause fuel prices to continue escalating and the industry might be exposed to financial risks, such as exchange rate fluctuations. He also pointed to the “massive” costs of decommissioning nuclear plants and disposing of nuclear waste.
“This is why private banks – and the World Bank – have always refused to fund nuclear power stations. It is left to governments and their taxpayers,” he stated.
Davies was responding to the Department of Energy director-general Nelisiwe Magubane’s comments last month that South Africa’s proposed new nuclear energy build programme was likely to reach a “point of no return” by June.
Engineering News at the time quoted Magubane as saying that South Africa was progressing through the various milestones endorsed by Cabinet ahead of any nuclear decision.
A wide cross-section of faith community leaders were calling for an urgent meeting with Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, who was ultimately responsible for the decision on nuclear, as he chaired the National Nuclear Energy Executive Coordination Committee, to address their concerns after several failed attempts at securing a response from President Jacob Zuma.
Motlanthe earlier this month stated that the country could not achieve its social and economic development aims without energy, indicating that nuclear power would play a leading role in driving this.
South African Nuclear Energy Corporation CEO Phumzile Tshelane agreed, stating that the country's proposed new nuclear power station construction programme would deliver a number of significant benefits.
“A successful new build programme would develop skills, create sustainable jobs, create wealth – especially at a regional level – and develop entrepreneurial skills, especially of the youth," he said at the Nuclear Africa 2013 conference in Midrand last week.
However, Davies quoted the results of a 2012 study by civil society forum of energy experts, the Electricity Governance Initiative, which found that South Africa could meet its energy needs at a lower cost and with a far higher employment potential with energy efficiency and renewable-energy initiatives, than government’s current nuclear and further coal-fired power plans.
The cost of electricity from the new coal stations of Medupi and Kusile would be higher than that of renewable energy, while the cost of nuclear would be double that of wind- and photovoltaics-generated power and it would take “at least 12 years to generate electricity” with nuclear.
The capital cost of the coal-fired power-plant projects would reach about R385-billion and the proposed “six-pack” of nuclear plants would cost about R940-billion, Davies explained.
“It is also a myth that nuclear energy will assist in reducing South Africa’s carbon footprint. The costs of [carbon-intensive] mining for uranium ore are increasing with the diminishing availability of high-grade uranium, as are the costs for transport and construction,” he said.
“Natural gas off the coast of Mozambique … could be brought to South Africa’s coastal cities within two or three years where, combined with renewables, it would provide a robust base load capacity and save the 30% energy loss of bringing electricity from Mpumalanga.”
Davies added that South Africa’s proposed energy mix was also based on outdated information.
The Integrated Resources Plan was due for review last year, with most energy-sector observers having noted that it is no longer aligned with changes in the global electricity sector, notably in the low proportion of generation capacity allocated to natural gas.
Davies also pointed out that energy demand predictions were found to be significantly inflated compared with the reality and government should not make a decision on nuclear based on outdated information.