At COP17 in Durban, there has been strong input from civil society that nuclear power is not the answer for South Africa.
Faith groups have long held the view that nuclear power is ethically indefensible, and they are becoming more vocal on this point. Nuclear power benefits the current generation, but leaves behind waste that must be safely stored for hundreds of thousands of years. During that time, it is statistically likely that some accident or leak will occur, which could result in the contamination of land and water resources. Climate change is likely to make these resources scarcer than they are today, so this type of contamination, a disaster at the best of times, may happen at a time when the world can ill afford it.
It is these concerns that have prompted statements such as this, from Bishop Geoff Davies: “We also have to say nuclear energy is not a responsible answer. The great news is that God has given us all the energy we need from the sun and the wind and the ocean currents.” Other groups have done research on solid scientific models which give substance to these sentiments, showing how South Africa has abundant solar and wind resources which means there is no need for the risks inherent in nuclear power, all too apparent after the Fukushima disaster.
In response, president Zuma said that South Africa has abandoned nuclear weapons, and government policy is to now pursue nuclear energy. There is some debate as to whether this was missing the point, or just a clever spin.
Faith group leaders have a large influence on the public opinion, and it would be wise of our politicians to engage with their concerns more deeply.