Environmental activists have warned that the government’s move to build additional nuclear electricity generation capacity is ‘bad for democracy’, will jeopardise citizens’ health, and create a burden of nuclear waste for future generations.

This, notes a report in The Mercury, follows the release of a National Energy Regulator (Nersa) consultation paper this week regarding Mineral & Energy Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe’s determination to commence the procurement of 2 500MW generation capacity from nuclear energy.

Public comments close on 5 February.

The draft determination states that the commencement of the procurement of 2 500MW of nuclear capacity is in line with ‘Decision 8 of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for Electricity 2019-2030’, gazetted on 18 October 2019.

Environmental organisations said this week they were opposed to the creation of additional nuclear electricity generation capacity and that the government should switch to renewable energy.

The determination was ‘spectacularly open’ in the way it had been drafted in terms of who could bid for the projects, notes David Hallowes, a groundWork researcher, in The Mercury report.

‘We don’t want it for several reasons, first the entire production chain from mining through to the power station is not only energy intensive it is also very polluting and dirty. On the West Rand it’s known that the levels of radioactive contamination in the air is very strong. A lot of mine dumps are highly radio active partly because the uranium came out with the gold,’ Hallowes said.

‘The impact is also the downstream impact of waste.’

He said low level radioactive waste, such as radioactive gloves and other clothing, was taken to the country’s only radioactive waste disposal facility, Vaalput, in the Northern Cape but there was also high level waste ‘sitting in ponds’ in storage at Koeberg.

‘The current plan is the next plant will be built next to Koeberg and it will simply accumulate high level waste there while they pretend there is another solution.’

Earthlife Africa Durban chairperson Alice Thomson said a nuclear build would place a ‘terrible legacy on future generations’ who would have to deal with the waste.

‘Studies show high rates of leukaemia in people who live near nuclear power plants and there is also the risk of a big accident,’ Thomson said.

Energy analyst Ted Blom said legacy nuclear was ‘not the future’ as it was capital intensive and usually did not deliver within budget and on time. However, he said embedded generation nuclear with between 50MW and 200MW of capacity was safer.

He said effluent generated was minimal as most of the waste could be reprocessed.

Full report in The Mercury (subscription needed)