The South African government has been driving its nuclear power plans forward over the last few months. There have long been concerns, as recently expressed by President Zuma’s Minister of Finance, Malusi Gigaba, that South Africa cannot afford nuclear power. There has been speculation that the World Bank might be a source of funds to allow the project to go ahead. However, there are several reasons that make this is extremely unlikely, to say the least. Continue reading
The minister of Energy signed an agreement with Russia in September 2014. More recently made a ministerial determination to allow Eskom to go ahead with the procurement of nuclear plants for South Africa. The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) had concurred with this determination. I sat in for the final day of the three day high court hearings questioning the legality of these dealings.
This is according to the World Nuclear Association, which describes itself as “the only international industry organisation with a global mandate to communicate about nuclear energy”, and has members which include Rosatom, the Russian nuclear power company, as well as Areva of France, KEPCO of Korea, and many others. Continue reading
The nuclear industry is losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the public, and has been suffering from sharply declining sales since even before Fukushima. One response has been to hire high profile lobbyists to paint nuclear power as ‘perfectly safe’. Unfortunately, sometimes journalists who are not too good at fact or background checking, such as our own Matthew le Cordeur, regurgitate the point of view put forward by these lobbyists, and write ‘articles’ such as this one (which I dealt with in detail in this post).
One well known figure who has come out in support of nuclear power is Patrick Moore, who famously misrepresents himself as a ‘founder’ of Greenpeace. Here is a short clip in which he sings the praises of a client (a company which runs a nuclear plant in the USA). He says that “nuclear industry is actually one of the very safest industries”. Continue reading
These are desperate times for the nuclear industry. Rising costs, the ongoing nightmare of the Fukushima clean up, the phasing out of nuclear power by some countries, fewer new orders every year, and dramatic cost and time overruns for the few projects under way makes new nuclear a very hard sell indeed.
And in South Africa, the star of the nuclear lobby, President Zuma, has become a falling star. Other senior ANC members have begun loudly denouncing his ties to corporate interests, in the form of the Guptas, including uranium mining.
Like the thrashing of a dying beast, the industry has been churning out press releases and placed articles at a frantic pace. In South Africa, the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA) has in the past paid people such as Andrew Kenny and Dawid Serfontein to pen articles for the local press promoting nuclear power. Continue reading
Nuclear power is currently predominately based on uranium fuel. This is an issue for two reasons. Uranium reserves are limited, and should nuclear power become widely used, economically extractable reserves would run out within decades. Secondly, the current 400 odd reactors in the world are producing high level waste at a rate far exceeding the rate at which long term solutions for handling this waste are being planned. The industry has acknowledged these problems, and the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) sometimes refers to uranium based nuclear power as a ‘bridging technology’.
One alternative put forward is thorium. There are about four times more known thorium than uranium reserves and a thorium reaction works differently, so the fuel lasts longer. Continue reading
A letter to the editor of the Mail & Guardian, in response to an article from NECSA, where a Mr Mabhongo claims that the nuclear energy industry is growing:
Much like an undertaker painting a rosy hue on the cheeks of a favoured relative before the final viewing, Mr Mabhongo makes a good job of attempting to paint a rosy hue on the dying nuclear industry. Examining the facts, however, paints a quite different picture.
70 under construction?
For example, as part of his good story, he writes that ‘More than 70 new nuclear reactors are currently under construction’. The International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), a United Nations body formed to promote the use of nuclear power, maintains a global database of commercial nuclear reactors. This lists 70 ‘under construction’ reactors, including the year in which construction began on each reactor.
‘Under construction’ for 42 years…
One of these is Watts Bar-2, on which construction began in 1972. Forty two years later, instead of classifying this as the economic failure it so clearly is, the IAEA continues to list it as ‘under construction’.
‘Under construction’ for 28 years…
Another two on the ‘under construction’ list are Khmelnitski-3 and Khmelnitski-4, both in the Ukraine, the home of the infamous Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. These have been ‘under construction’ since 1986 and 1987 respectively. It is not difficult to imagine why these projects were abandoned, and yet, twenty eight years later, Mabhongo cheerfully considers them to be evidence for the nuclear renaissance story! Only nine are in the West, or eight if Watts Bar-2 is excluded.
Only 2 are in Europe…
and one of those is Olkiluoto-3, which was first planned to be completed in 2009 and is the subject of a bitter long running €2.6 billion legal battle between TVO, Areva and Siemens. Hardly a success story.
Over half of the seventy are in Russia and China, countries not famed for their transparency, safety or environmental standards.
Nuclear power is dying in the West
The truth is that nuclear power is dying out in the West, and is only surviving in countries where public opinion does not not carry much weight. A detailed analysis of the other ‘facts’ presented, such as the claim that the nuclear energy industry is experiencing growth, or that pebble bed modular reactor technology is catching on, will show that Mabhongo is being, to put it kindly, wildly optimistic.
Mabhongo works for NECSA, a public company which aims to extract profit from the nuclear industry.
Perhaps it would be appropriate to include the word ‘advertorial’ above any future article NECSA offers your paper.
First published here: http://mg.co.za/article/2014-09-05-00-letters-to-the-editor-september-5-to-11-2014