Standing Strong: 7 Years Since Nuclear Deal Ruling, Civil Society Remains Vigilant, Committed To Energy Justice

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On the eve of South Africa’s Freedom Day, Friday 26 April 2024, the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) – together with Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, Project 90 by 2030, Africa Climate Alliance, Koeberg Alert Alliance, The Green Connection and concerned citizens  held a peaceful vigil outside Parliament in Cape Town. The vigil marked the 7th Anniversary of the landmark court ruling against a secret, illegal R1-trillion nuclear deal, which many believed would bankrupt the country. This day also marks the 38th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

Francesca de Gasparis (Executive Director, SAFCEI) says, “That  the court ruling for the South African case date coincides with the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster  should be seen as a cautionary tale of the destructive capability of nuclear energy coupled with the devastating consequences of government secrecy. Today we launched Lessons from the South African Nuclear Court Case a short publication on that historic moment so it is not forgotten and in the public interest.”

Nuclear energy projects in Africa raise significant concerns regarding their economic, environmental, and political ramifications. The exorbitant costs incurred are not only burdensome to current economies but also extend their impact to future generations, passing on debt to taxpayers. Moreover, international funding agreements often compromise national sovereignty and security, while the sector's historical secrecy fosters corruption and grants undue influence to political elites. Furthermore, the impracticality of nuclear energy in regions with small, unstable grids and water-stressed environments, coupled with its slow construction pace and reliance on extensive resources, underscores the urgency of exploring more immediate and sustainable power generation alternatives.

Makoma Lekalakala (Earthlife Africa Johannesburg) says, “We oppose any new nuclear energy developments in South Africa as planned in the ntegrated Resource Plan (IRP). We see the issue of radioactive waste and its impact on those who are unfortunate enough to live in areas where they may be affected, as a non-negotiable. The legacy of apartheid is still very much a reality for the people living near the nuclear waste facility in Vaalputs Northern Cape – a site which may grow in size and scale, should the Koeberg life extension get the green light.”

In contrast to the protracted timelines and potential risks associated with nuclear energy, renewable energy sources offer a more viable and cost-effective solution for Africa's energy needs. Embracing renewables not only mitigates environmental concerns but also provides rapid deployment opportunities, creating jobs and bolstering local economies. By prioritising these alternatives, African nations can sidestep the pitfalls of nuclear energy and usher in a brighter, more sustainable energy future, aligned with both economic prosperity and environmental stewardship.

According to Lydia Petersen, a community activist with a keen interest in the various safety issues associated with the plans to extend the lifespan of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant, “One of the key concerns, which government does not seem to want to talk about is the various issues of safety relating to Eskom’s proposed life-extension plans for the aging Koeberg power plant. As we celebrate civil society’s victory over poor government decision-making, we need to mobilise the masses to stop these dangerous plans. From recent reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Eskom has not done its due diligence regarding repairs that are required. As Eskom pushes to get a license to extend the life of the plant for another 20 years, the safety of the aging nuclear plant should be its top priority.”

Gabriel Klaasen (Project 90 by 2030) says, “We must put a stop to poor energy decisions by government. On the one hand, there are those decisions that could bankrupt the country – like we saw with the secret nuclear deal with Russia – and then there are those decisions which leave the majority of South Africans in the cold and dark. It is time for this government to realise that the only way we can ensure safe, affordable and available electricity sources that do less harm to the environment, is by meaningfully involving its people in these discussions. Anything other than that will likely result in continued pushback from those who fear they will be adversely affected by these decisions.”

“South Africa needs an Integrated Energy Plan, energy sources that are chosen by the people for the people. This is why we call on South Africans to join us, to make their voices heard and in shaping the country’s energy future! This is why we celebrate the past victories, to show our fellow citizens that when we unite, we can achieve what seems to be impossible. Now is the time for the public to get involved in the country’s energy decisions. Just look at where excluding the people’s voice has gotten us, a debilitating energy crisis that still relies on sources that harm our people and the environment. Together, we can ensure affordability, safety, and reliability, and address energy poverty. This is why we demand transparency from our leaders, so that all South Africans can have a brighter, cleaner future,” concludes de Gasparis.