On 11 October 2017 the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) issued an authorisation to Eskom for a second nuclear power plant at Koeberg, 28km north of Cape Town City centre. This was in response to a final Environmental Impact Report submitted to the Department by Gibb (Pty) Ltd on behalf of Eskom, the applicant.
Please sir, may we have some more time?
We wrote to the Department on 30 October, requesting an extension of the 30 day appeal period, which was set to expire on 1 December 2017.
We asked: “As set out above, in order for the appeal process to be fair, meaningful and legally defensible, the department will have to issue a number of corrective and explanatory public statements, and must direct the EAP to provide the public with more time within which to prepare their appeals. We are advised that a 90 day period within which to prepare an appeal is more realistic.”
Hurry up and wait…
Over the following weeks, we contacted the Department several times to ask what the status of this request was. Each time we were told:
Dear Mr Beker [sic]
We are currently busy with a decision in this regard.
Heloise van Schalkwyk
Deputy Director: Appeals and Legal Review
Finally, on the morning of 30 November, after a barrage of phone calls from our members, telephonic assurance was given that the letter granting the extension had been printed a few days earlier, and was just awaiting a signature from the Director. Formal notification followed the next day, the 1st December, at 9am.
The full text of the decision is here.
Et tu Eskom?
There were two other requests for extension acknowledged by the Department in the above letter. One was Mr Reyskens, a member of our online group and the other, to my surprise, was Eskom!
Eskom had been shown our extension request and responded to the Department on 23 November. In a mirroring of our request for 90 days, Eskom (the applicant for this project), asked for 90 days to respond to the appeals!
This means no final decision will be made until 4 June 2018.
A bit of context…
This Environmental Authorisation is one piece of the chain that would be required before a nuclear plant can be procured. Some of the other pieces are:
- Acceptance of the updated Integrated Resource Plan by cabinet (already done according to Energy Minister Mahlobo)
- A ministerial Determination to proceed with procurement
- An approval of the above by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa
- An international agreement framework with one or more vendor countries
- A site licence from the National Nuclear regulator
It is important that attention is paid to each of these because once an Environmental Authorisation is finally granted for example, it cannot be reversed and is valid for ten years.
Is this a victory?
For those opposing nuclear energy in South Africa, a delay is always seen as a victory. With every passing year, renewable energy becomes cheaper, storage solutions become more practical and nuclear energy becomes more expensive as more complex designs are created to increase safety. In the current political climate in South Africa, delaying the decision beyond the ANC December conference is also important. Once the power structures change, there may be less top level political pressure to rush the nuclear deal through. So for now, getting this extension is a victory.
What is next?
Note that it is now possible for anyone who failed to give notice of intention to appeal, to do that now, asking for condonation of the late notice. This is reasonable because some may have thought they would not have had time to complete an appeal within the 30 day period, and so did not give notice of intention to appeal. Given the longer period now granted, some may now wish to appeal after all by emailing email@example.com with the subject Nuclear-1 appeal notice. If you do so, make sure you get an acknowledgement.
The extra time is going to be useful. There are many issues with the Environmental Impact Report, both procedural and substantive, and our draft appeal document has reached 20 pages so far. It’s hard to pick the most important issues, but two that have been a recurring theme in our previous submissions are the arguments for the need for nuclear power in South Africa, and the seismic risks of the Koeberg site, given the proximity to the Milnerton fault line.
A worrying recurrent theme in the Report is that the design of the nuclear plant will be so good that it will ‘practically eliminate‘ the chance of a serious accident, despite the actual design being unknown at this stage!
Those who would like to contribute to the appeal document are invited to contact firstname.lastname@example.org or to join our Facebook group for further information.