The Risks of an “Energy Emergency”

A declaration of an ‘energy emergency’ has been touted as a necessary step to “cut through the red tape” and address the electricity crisis. But what exactly does this mean? Which regulations or processes will be bypassed?

When it comes to the Koeberg nuclear plant, one upcoming regulatory requirement and a concern for those advocating for a life extension is getting approval from the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR). The current operating licence expires in July 2024, and without the NNR granting a life extension, this is when the plant will have to be permanently shut down.

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Minister Mantashe releases Record of Decision

After appointing Peter Becker to the Board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) in June 2021, Minister Mantashe fired him in February 2022. Becker has launched an application in the High Court to have this decision reviewed. This includes a call for the record of the decision, according to Rule 53 of the Uniform Rules of Court. The logic behind this rule is that a court cannot be expected to determine if a decision is rational without seeing what was before the decision maker at the time.

Thirty three documents comprising the record have been released by the Minister via the State Attorney, and are now part of the public court record. These documents are also available at the bottom of this article.

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Civil society rejects calls for NNR nominations

The hiring and firing of Peter Becker by Minister Mantashe has been covered extensively in the press recently. Becker was appointed to the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) Board to represent communities in June 2021, and fired for ‘misconduct’ in February 2022. Becker is in the process of challenging this in the Western Cape High Court, asking that the decision to remove him be reviewed and set aside. 

The Minister and the NNR have until 10 May to produce the record of the decision. Despite this, the Minister recently issued a call for nominations to replace Becker. The deadline for nominations was 6 May.

In a speech in the Eastern Cape on 7 May, Mantashe is reported as saying that he will fire anyone on the NNR Board who does not advocate for nuclear power or ‘resists’ nuclear power. This appears to make it clear that anyone nominated must be someone who will ‘advocate’ for nuclear power, irrespective of the opinions of the communities they are appointed to represent.

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Minister Mantashe and the NNR headed to court

After appointing Peter Becker to the Board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) in June 2021, Minister Mantashe fired him in February 2022. Becker has launched an application in the High Court to have this decision reviewed. If successful, it would mean that he would return to his position on the NNR Board.

The Minister’s decision to discharge Becker was based on a complaint in July 2021, shortly after he was appointed. The founding affidavit (linked below) submitted to the court paints a picture of a decision by the Minister based on unsubstantiated allegations combined with a misunderstanding of the role of the NNR.

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IAEA visit to Koeberg results in misunderstandings

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited the Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant near Cape Town from 22 to 31 March 2022. Both the IAEA and Eskom put out media statements after the visit, which are available on the Eskom and IAEA sites respectively. The statements have resulted in some misunderstanding, which we try to correct below.

Firstly, it is important to bear in mind that the IAEA is an organisation with voluntary membership and has the objective “to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy”, according to its statute. Member states may invite the IAEA to visit a nuclear site to conduct a review and make recommendations, and this visit was done after a request from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.

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NNR CEO resigns after approvals for Koeberg and as legal battles loom

On 18 March 2022, the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) announced that Dr. Mzubanzi Bismark Tyobeka had resigned as the Chief Executive Officer of the organisation. This resignation comes at a busy time for the NNR as it considers Eskom’s application to extend the life of Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy talks about procurement of 2500MW new nuclear by 2024. 

Considering the implications, this resignation has raised questions from civil society.

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Community concerns about Vaalputs nuclear dump not being heard

MEDIA STATEMENT

On 16 March 2022, Peter Becker of Koeberg Alert Alliance (KAA) presented to a workshop organised by the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) in the Northern Cape. SAFCEI and the KAA sometimes work together informally on matters that affect communities. 

Community members wanted to understand more about how nuclear power works, and also how to learn more about the waste which is disposed of at Vaalputs. 

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Nuclear safety concerns sparked by dismissal of community representative

Statement from the South African Faith Communities Environment Institute
Released 4 March 2022

It has now been just over a week since Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe fired Peter Becker (on 25 February) – the community representative on the board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR), a position that is required by law – and many communities and civil society organisations are seething. Many feel that this dismissal implies, especially for those communities who live in the surrounding areas of Koeberg and near sites that government has earmarked for nuclear (such as Thyspunt), that their safety and their concerns about nuclear energy will either be silenced or will not effectively be dealt with.

According to Francesca de Gasparis, Executive Director at the Southern African Faith Communities’ Institute (SAFCEI), “This dismissal also sends the wrong message to current and future board members, who may not want to risk their position by speaking out about issues that concern them and those they represent. The role of the community representative on the Board is to represent communities when it comes to developments that could put their wellbeing and livelihoods at risk.”

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Minister Mantashe fires community representative for ‘misconduct’

Minister Mantashe suspended the civil society representative on the Board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) on 18 January based on a legal opinion provided to him on 10 October 2021. After a long process of letter writing and providing representations including a clear rebuttal of the allegations made against Peter Becker, the Minister wrote the letter below discharging Becker from the Board.

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No valid reasons for discharge from Board of Nuclear Regulator

After a long process which began in July 2021 Minister Mantashe provided reasons why he intended to fire the civil society representative on the Board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) on 16 February 2022. This was the first time the Minister had committed his reasons to paper, and it provided the first opportunity for Peter Becker, the suspended Board member, to respond to the allegations of misconduct that the Minister was making.

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