The budget, SA’s energy future and political posturing

Pravin Gordhan

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. Photo credit: Shelley Christians

SAFCEI commends the Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan for steadying South Africa’s ship, bringing the country back from the brink and creating an element of stability to the nation’s finances.   We hear now that government will only expand nuclear energy capacity ‘after a thorough and transparent tender process’ and at a ‘scale and pace that is affordable’. We pray that this level of realism will prevail and that it will reduce the chance that nuclear power decision making will be driven by political posturing and the self-seeking aspirations of some of our politicians.

In Minister Nene’s mini-budget in 2015, R200 million was allocated to “preparatory work” for nuclear energy generation.  Besides the call for proposals from the nuclear industry, the department of energy is expected to use this allocation to “increase nuclear awareness” through “active demystification campaigns”.  Is this a thinly disguised attempt to spread nuclear propaganda?

We are concerned that Ms Tina Joematt-Pettersson, the Minister of Energy believes that the scales in the nuclear debate will be tipped by spending money raising awareness and changing people’s attitudes.  We know the long-term dangers of both nuclear power and uranium mining and the legacy left by the industry.  Demystifying nuclear must include an honest explanation of the 10 000 year legacy of toxic fuel waste and the health impacts and human suffering caused by  uranium mining.  To spend money on covering up the negative impacts  of nuclear and promoting it as a positive form of energy under the guise of  “demystifying” nuclear is a not only an absurd waste of money, it  is promoting a lie.  Nuclear is not “clean” energy and both nuclear and coal need to be phased out if we are to bring about the emissions reductions needed to prevent further climate change devastation.

The Minister of Energy, has obdurately avoided answering questions put to her in parliamentary portfolio committee meetings and the Government continues to perpetuate the myths that only coal and nuclear can provide “base load” and about nuclear safety.

Amory Lovins, chief scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute, believes that the maturing renewable energy industry will make SA’s power system more sustainable and equitable.  He maintains that “Decentralised power generation from renewables is the pathway to energy democracy – investing in power for people and places lacking it.”   In Germany, the nuclear energy industry employs 12 000 people, while the renewable energy sector has already created over 370 000 jobs.  Not only are there immense work opportunities, but renewable energy would put our planet on a more sustainable path for the future.

In his budget speech, Minister Gordhan highlighted the importance of obtaining energy from renewables, and gas in the short term future. He made no further budgetary allocation for nuclear expansion. We are encouraged by the government’s support and recognition of the value and opportunities of renewable energy.  This was highlighted by the South African International Renewable Energy Conference (SAIREC) which showcased the immense opportunities available with renewable energy.

Furthermore, the announcement of a 9.6% electricity tariff hike at the beginning of March comes as another blow to our struggling economy. Eskom argues that it has been “prudent and transparent” in its tariff application and insists that “buying diesel to keep the lights on was the last resort.” Renewable energy installations can be generating electricity within a year or two. Once they are approved, nuclear power stations take more than a decade to come on line. South Africa might have been able to avoid the use of diesel altogether, saving money and the climate, had decision makers been more pro-active in embracing and expanding the country’s renewable energy capacity.

With exceptional solar and wind resources, South Africa could become a hub and lead the way for the production of renewable energy in Africa.  We cannot afford to be side-tracked onto the nuclear route through the vested interests of a few short term politicians. We pray that the Hawks investigation of Minister Gordhan, set up out of the blue by the Commissioner of the SA Revenue Services (SARS), will not threaten the new level of sanity and stability that the country’s Minister of Finance has been able to establish.

 

*Written by Kate and Bishop Geoff Davies

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