Murky waters surround nuclear energy in South Africa

In the budget review for 2012, a price tag of R 300 billion appears for Eskom’s nuclear fleet build programme. The programme is designed to deliver 9,600 MW of nuclear capacity by 2029 and is described as being in the “final stages of consideration before financial proposals can be determined”.

Fukushima releasing radioactive steam. Just how safe is nuclear energy?

Yet President Zuma did not mention the R 300 billion nuclear build programme in his State of the Nation Address. The Minister of Finance did not mention it explicitly in his Budget Speech. Now, apparently, it is in its “final stages”.

There has been no debate in Parliament and no opportunity for the public to scrutinise a nuclear programme that could have a very real impact on all of our lives. Not only will it cost nearly a third of our annual budget, but there are serious safety and environmental concerns to consider.

Given that the shadow of Arms Deal corruption continues to darken our democracy, government should be extra careful about the nuclear build programme. It must err on the side of more transparency, not less.

For this reason, the Democratic Alliance (DA) will table a motion to debate the nuclear build programme in Parliament at the first opportunity.

From a technical point of view, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Feasibility study for the programme should be in the public domain before any project of this magnitude is seriously considered.

If a specific amount has already been allocated in the budget, the public has a right to see the evidence on which the budgetary allocation was decided.

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We also need to know who the preferred bidders for the project might be and why.

All we know about the nuclear build programme so far is that Thyspunt, near Jeffreys Bay is the preferred location; that bidding is meant to start this year; and that Areva, the notorious French nuclear company, purportedly leads the bidding pack. Areva has recently been the subject of ‘spies, uranium and bad management’ in an article by The Economist.

At the end of last year, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe assured Parliament that the tendering process for the nuclear fleet build programme would be managed “in a manner that would leave no grey areas or dark corners”.

Despite the Deputy President’s assurances, South Africans are being left with the inescapable feeling that government has made up its mind about this nuclear project, knows who it wants the tender to go to and is going to carry on regardless. We think it is time the government told the South African public exactly what is going on.

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