• Published:


12 FEBRUARY 2021


Government’s ‘too little, too late’ attempt to address the country’s electricity needs has had far-reaching effects with citizens paying the price through higher electricity bills and persistent load shedding. According to the Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute (Safcei) this year’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) should also have emphasized the importance of a reliable energy system by making a firm commitment to improved decision-making, transparency, and accountability mechanisms in energy planning.

Safcei’s Executive Director Francesca de Gasparis says, “The President’s speech was silent on nuclear power, yet we know from recent developments that the government has been pushing on with its nuclear plans, despite more nuclear not being needed and being one of the most costly electricity generation options. In terms of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which lays out our energy choices, this risky and outdated technology is not even identified as a necessary part of the solution to the country’s ongoing energy crisis. Renewable energy is significantly quicker to install and a more cost effective choice.”

The multi-faith environmental justice organisation says that it is particularly concerned about the government's inability to provide approved feasibility studies, business cases or research study reports on the proposed use of new nuclear power and its potential impact on the environment and local communities when requested to do so. These were requested from both the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and Eskom in December 2020.

“Safcei made a request for information in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), following growing concern about the lack of information about the government's latest push for further nuclear energy projects. In its official response, Eskom confirmed that it does not have an approved feasibility study or business case on Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) to present, but should they ‘discover’ that they do have such a document in their possession, they would share it. The DMRE did not give any response at all. As we see it, government’s inability and/or unwillingness to provide information that is requested, severely hampers citizens’ ability to participate in a meaningful way in these decisions. Lack of effective public participation is a hallmark of weak democratic processes,” says de Gasparis.

She adds that Safcei requested information for any studies in the period from 2010 to 2020 – the decade since the previous Pebble Bed Modular reactor project (a form of SMR) was cancelled with good reason. Eskom’s by its own admission has not been able to produce any new or approved feasibility study or business cases. Eskom also stated that they pursued initiatives between 2016 and 2020 to determine the technical feasibility of SMR's, but the studies were discontinued due to a lack of funding.

“If Eskom has not completed approved studies about the feasibility of SMRs or conventional nuclear technology, why is the government once more asking for approval from NERSA for further nuclear power options?”

She says, “This is reminiscent of the rushed and secret9600 MW nuclear new build of 2015 – a deal that was ruled unlawful and unconstitutional in the Western Cape High Court in 2017. Government is still not being transparent enough with its planning or information about nuclear energy but seems to be steamrolling down a path of nuclear energy procurement again.”

“South Africa does not have the funds, especially in this time of CoVid, not to learn from past energy planning mistakes that cost the country billions,” de Gasparis continues. “Information about SMRs from the pre-procurement Request for Information process should be made public, as a matter of urgency. Internationally SMR technology is still being researched and which has not been tried and tested and is not yet proven as a viable option.”

“We are concerned for many reasons about the impact on the environment and communities, including the rises in tariff prices year on year for households who already cannot afford to pay for a month’s supply.”

“Finally, the often-repeated outdated argument to support the myth that nuclear energy is needed for baseload requirements, has been convincingly disproven. It has already been shown that nuclear power offers too little, too late, and at too high a cost. We wanted to hear the President declare that as South Africa embraces a just energy transition nuclear will not be in the energy mix,” de Gasparis concludes.

For more information, go to http://nuclearcostssa.org/ or find us on Nuclear Free SA on Facebook.

#JustCleanEnergy #NuclearFreeSA #NukeFreeFuture

Issued by Natasha Adonis on behalf of Safcei. For any media queries, contact Natasha Adonis on Natasha.adonis.comms@gmail.com or 079-799-9654.