Today, in the midst of Eskom’s ongoing troubles at Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, which has left many South Africans uneasy about the safety of the plant – especially since the government proposes to extend the unreliable and aging facility’s lifespan by another 20 years – the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) with Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, The Green Connection, other civil society partners, and faith communities held an event today to address the future of nuclear energy in South Africa and the region. Participants gathered in person and online from across Africa, to share lessons from South Africa’s nuclear deal court case victory, as well as unpacking why Africa no longer needs nuclear energy, and especially the Koeberg power plant, which is due for decommissioning next year. The court case ruling anniversary date coincides with the 37th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.
This year we will be – commemorating the 6th anniversary of civil society’s court victory to stop the government’s R 1 trillion nuclear deal. After presentations from a number of experts, the event will culminate in a peace march and vigil at Parliament calling for an end to nuclear energy in South Africa and for the cessation of the weaponization of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the Ukraine.
SAFCEI Executive Director Francesca de Gasparis says, “At the front of our minds as we mark and celebrate the 6th anniversary of the corrupt nuke deal court case, is Eskom’s proposal to extend the functioning of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station – for an additional 20 years, until 2044 and 2045 for Units 1 and 2 respectively. We believe Eskom’s plans to be fatally flawed. It is not only the lack of information received for the safety case which is a major obstacle to proper public involvement in this very critical and far-reaching decision. The persistent problems at Koeberg in recent times, with one or other units offline for a number of reasons (through tripping, errors, and other faults) and resultant unreliability of the grid, also affect the feasibility of this proposed endeavour. All evidence that is in the public realm points to an unreliable and unaffordable nuclear power plant that is no longer fit for purpose and which should not have its life extended.”
In its recent report on Eskom’s adherence to IAEA Safety Standards and international best practices – regarding plans to extend the life of Koeberg nuclear power station beyond its original decommissioning date – the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) raised several “deeply concerning” ‘issues’ mostly related to critical safety issues, with at least nine of these previously highlighted in 2015 and 2019. The IAEA’s Safety Aspects of Long-Term Operation (SALTO) report notes that all these must be resolved before the life extension can be considered safe.
According to Earthlife Africa’s Programme Officer Ulrich Steenkamp, “It is important for people to know that new nuclear energy plants will not solve our loadshedding issue. These power stations take between seven to ten years (sometimes, even longer) to build and costs could reach into the trillions. And with our country’s poor track record for getting things done, the wait will likely be even longer for South Africans. No, this is not feasible for a country like South Africa, especially with more affordable, safer options available that are quicker (and easier) to install.” These South African eco-justice organisations say they stand in solidarity with Ukrainians and call for the end of the weaponization of nuclear power by Russian soldiers, a current threat at the Zaporizhzhia power plant in Ukraine.
SAFCEI’s Wayne du Plessis says, “If a nuclear station is being used as a tool of war in Ukraine, who is to say it will never be used as such here in Africa? Nuclear is not needed here and the dangers are clear. We already have challenges with the disposal of nuclear waste in a compromised structure at the Koeberg power plant and any leakages will be detrimental to the communities living closest to the plant and its waste. That is the risk locally. Internationally, however, do we want to make South Africa a target to be exploited financially by countries that want to provide nuclear power and not be held accountable for anything that goes wrong in the process? There are cheaper renewable alternatives to our energy crisis.”
Faith Leader and Koeberg Alert Alliance spokesperson Lydia Petersen says, “Extending the life of Koeberg is a wasteful and futile exercise. As it is, the public does not know the actual cost of the refurbishment – it is certainly much more than the last public account given of R20bn, estimated in 2010. What is more, all this is being spent before the National Nuclear Regulator has even approved the life extension. This could end up a huge waste of money, which Eskom will have to reclaim by increasing electricity prices. Koeberg is not the answer to our immediate energy crisis, as it has been proven to be unreliable during the last two years. Recently the Unit 2 tripped, and with Unit 1 offline already, Koeberg did not contribute a single megawatt to the grid for a few days, at a time we so desperately needed it. We have 30GW of new renewable projects approved, which means there will be no need for the less than 2GW from Koeberg after 2025. Furthermore, we have no plan for a permanent solution to the nuclear waste, and so the first step should be to stop making more of it, and to shut down Koeberg at the end of its life as originally planned. The ongoing loss of skilled staff from Koeberg is another major safety concern. How can we be sure that there is the capacity to deal with any emergency, should one arise?”
“Despite the limited amount of information available about Koeberg Power Plant’s current status, it is clear that we should not be extending the life of Koeberg or even considering new nuclear power at all. Nuclear power is not only a danger because of 14 listed reasons in the IAEA’s report, but also because there is not yet a long-term plan for the radioactive waste – waste that could have harmful impacts on our environment, as well as on the wellbeing of communities. In addition to this, new nuclear power simply doesn’t make sense as it is not affordable. With the lack of transparency around the safety of Koeberg, and its unaffordability, any further investment would leave youth and future generations to inherit a world of injustice,” says youth activist and Project 90 by 2030 spokesperson, Gabriel Klaasen
According to The Green Connection’s Liziwe McDaid, “New nuclear power is neither affordable nor appropriate for South Africa, and a false solution for climate change. As government corruption continues to be exposed, we remain acutely mindful of the danger that such enormously expensive projects may be promoted by those who see the potential for unlimited looting. This is especially pertinent when we remember that our government has previously demonstrated a willingness to enter the country into unlawful, secret nuclear deals. It is important that people fight for independent, careful, ethical, and expert oversight of existing nuclear facilities. One wrong slip and the disaster will be felt for generations.”
Photos by Ruan Vorster