Will South Africa be able to raise the money to purchase a nuclear power reactor? Probably not. The Treasury recently admitted that it has done no costing or affordability study for nuclear power, and the 2015 budget made it clear that no money has been allocated for the next three years.
And every year, prospects get bleaker for the nuclear industry…
In addition, the falling value of the Rand, and the constantly increasing dollar cost of nuclear plants make it less affordable for South Africa with each year that passes. But just because the train will never reach its destination, that doesn’t mean you can’t get aboard and enjoy the gravy!
Example of nuclear gravy – the PBMR…
The Pebble Bed Modular Reactor was an idea for a new kind of nuclear reactor developed in Germany, and abandoned there in 1988 due to technical problems. In a show of hubris, local industry players managed to convince the South African government to fund an attempt to revitalise this idea, at a rate of about R1 billion per year.
From a government report released in 2010: “… PBMR had received R8.7 billion since inception in 1999 … Most of the funds were spent on remuneration, corporate costs…”. Eventually, funding this failed private company cost the taxpayer somewhere between R9 billion and R12 billion, which included millions of rands in bonuses for the top executives, such as CEO Jaco Kriek. This is a good example of how failure and wasting tax payers’ money can have handsome rewards.
Public relations – the biggest growth sector of nuclear power?
The nuclear industry has believed for a long time that the most significant obstacle to nuclear power worldwide is public opinion. This has resulted in a large budget for public relation (PR) firms, which has attracted those with more greed than ethics, such as Patrick Moore, to make self aggrandising claims about being a ‘Greenpeace founder‘ and then to sing the praises of nuclear power (and GMOs, by the way) – for a fee, of course.
In South Africa, the Dept of Public Enterprises admitted to spending R4 million (parliamentary question #1946 of 21 November 2008) on how to influence the public to be more accepting of nuclear power. It may have been some of this money that was used to print 100,000 posters (see image) filled with outrageous pro-nuclear and anti-renewable propaganda. This poster was distributed to schools and other organisations throughout South Africa.
Nuclear waste – the real problem
While all the brouhaha about new nuclear plants and secret deals with Putin is going on, there is a critical issue that is going largely ignored, and that is the accumulating radioactive waste.
The least dangerous is the low level waste, seen here being buried in barrels near Vaalputs. The most dangerous is the high level waste, or spent fuel, and so far about a million kilograms has accumulated at Koeberg, with about 30,000 kg being added each year. There is no plan as to what to do with this as yet, and in fact there is no final high level waste disposal site operating anywhere in the world. This means we have no idea what it will cost to dispose of this radioactive waste.
The polluter pays?
According to this internationally accepted principle, whoever creates waste must pay for its safe handling and disposal. The cost of this should therefore be included in any comparative costing of energy production technologies, but since the cost is unknown, no such comparison can be completed. This creates the risk that once the costs are determined, Eskom does not have the cash to pay for it. Unfortunately, we all know what happens when Eskom runs out of money – its gets cash injections of taxpayer money, which would be better spent on education, health, etc.
There is an urgent need for a fully costed plan for the 1000,000kg of high level nuclear waste we have accumulated so far in Cape Town. To proceed with any new nuclear projects before this is done would be wildly irresponsible.
[For another example of nuclear gravy now in the news see Jobs for pals at state nuclear firm]