President Zuma’s statement that the government would “only procure nuclear on a scale and pace that our country can afford” is in no way reassuring. Zuma seems to ignore the fact time and again that South Africa is in no financial position to procure nuclear. This became clear when he abruptly dismissed former Finance Minister Nene, who was reluctant on committing Treasury to such a cost.
Zuma also spoke about becoming serious about wasteful government expenditure. Does the nuclear procurement plan not fit perfectly into this mould? There seems to be no reason to turn to nuclear energy and here is why:
- We don’t need nuclear to keep the lights on
In 2015, South Africa’s fledgling renewable energy programme added 1500MW to the grid, helping to minimise load shedding. The government has announced a further 6000MW of solar and wind power projects over the short term. Although coal power stations have serious health and environmental problems, South Africa has already commissioned Medupi and Kusile, the 3rd and 4th largest coal fired power stations in the world. Once operational, these will provide a large amount of our electricity requirements for decades to come.
- We need electricity now
Nuclear power stations take over 10 years to build. Wind and solar farms take 1 to 2 years to build and provide affordable electricity without the environmental and health costs of nuclear.
- Nuclear centralises power & provides few sustainable jobs
Renewable energy (wind, solar, hydro) brings power to the people with smaller localized stations. They empower thousands of citizens through job creation and build technical capacity in manufacturing, construction, operation and spin-off industries. “Energy from South Africa’s first wind and solar projects created R800 million in net financial benefits in 2014.” (CSIR)
- Nuclear power is unaffordable (without subsidies)
Right now the private sector is installing wind and solar, risk free to citizens and selling electricity cheaper than the projected cost for electricity from Medupi. Consumers are also investing in renewables and energy efficiency. Unable to compete, nuclear power is likely to become a white elephant. How will South Africa repay foreign loans for nukes?
- Nuclear power & uranium mining leave a lethal legacy.
Uranium mines have high environmental & human health costs. Nuclear power plants and spent fuel are a high risk and costly legacy for generations. It inflicts many, many future generations with the burden of radioactive waste. We cannot compromise our sovereignty or energy security with contracts that commit all South Africans, for generations to come, to some of the most expensive and risky energy technology in the world.