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The impact of nuclear in South Africa

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Judith Taylor − Branch Co-ordinator, EarthLife Africa Joburg

There can be no more significant time to be writing this than today, 18 August 2013. Yesterday, our National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) announced its approval for two smelters to be constructed at Pelindaba by the Nuclear Energy Company of South Africa (NECSA). These smelters are to be used to smelt the 14,000 tonnes of radioactive metal held on the site. They have also given the approval for cold commissioning. This is despite the very strong case put forward at the public hearing last year for not allowing the facility to be built. NECSA did not put forward a strong case, as they were unable to even put forward the cost of building the facility.

Our legacy of Acid Mine Water has moved beyond dangerous to critical with the water to be treated to remove the heavy metals but not the sulphates before release into our major waterways – the Vaal-Orange system and the Crocodile-Limpopo. This additional pollution burden will add to that of sewage, industrial and agricultural pollutants already compromising the rivers in South Africa. The cost to the Water Boards in cleaning this water to potable will consequently be severely increased. Impacts on the ecosystems and human and animal health are being ignored. The Department of Health refuses to act and the Departments of Water and the Environment refuse to regulate.

South Africa's Chernobyl situation, around Krugersdorp, Randfontein, Soweto and right out to KwaThema near Brakpan, continues to endanger the lives of all the inhabitants of the area. Radioactivity levels in many areas reflect those at Chernobyl. The only difference is that there are people living in those areas with infants as well. The legacy of over 125 years of mining, polluted rivers and streams plus tonnes of tailings containing arsenic, uranium, cadmium amongst other heavy metals, continues to stand unrectified and abandoned.

Many of the original mining companies have closed down or left the country (Anglo American being a case in point). As result, the Chamber of Mines refuses to entertain any liability for rectification, leaving the tax-payers to foot the bill. The affected communities pay the penalty of increasingly bad health as the polluted air is breathed in and the polluted water is drunk and used to water vegetables, which absorb the heavy metals. The vegetables are then eaten, further compromising the health of the consumers.

On top of this, we have the proposed rollout of another six nuclear power plants along the southern coast of the country. The European Union has promised funding for this (see and Russia has also put a strong proposal on the table (see The focus is on job creation and is highly favoured by the government. The fact that Flamenville and Olkiluoto are yet to be completed, are heavily over budget and the latter has employed mainly Polish workers, seems to have been overlooked completely.

The first site favoured for the new nuclear power station is Thyspunt near Port Elizabeth. This is an area where commercial calamari farming has been developed very successfully. Twenty thousand people are employed in this export income generating industry. However, calamari are temperamental and changes in water temperature could prevent them from continuing to breed, resulting in the loss of jobs. The building of the reactor is expected to create a mere 1186 jobs over 11 years. This does not seem like a viable project if even 5,000 jobs are lost in the calamari farming, which is predicted.

In addition, evacuation is compromised by there being only one road in and out of the area. This resembles the already existing situations at both Koeberg and Pelindaba, where evacuation in the case of an emergency would be extremely difficult. It is acknowledged that, at Koeberg, Eskom has no idea of how many people are in the area. An emergency evacuation plan is not on Koeberg's website and most of the people in the area are not aware of emergency planning, as emergency exercises are not communicated to them.

In the case of Pelindaba, some of the affected community would have to go past the reactor in order to evacuate in the case of an emergency. This raises concerns about whether the NNR is truly regulating the nuclear industry and ensuring that the public is properly protected.

Whilst emergency exercises are held at both installations and the Public Safety Information Forums meet four times a year to report back to the affected parties, we are concerned that these exercises do not score well and errors are given too much time to be remediated. In addition, neither site has ever been subjected to a full Environmental Impact Assessment, as they went into production prior to this being a requirement. This gives environmentalists considerable problems, as we cannot obtain a comprehensive report on the state of the areas and the impacts.

In January this year, all the environmental NGOs and affected parties met in Cape Town to form an alliance to campaign against Nuclear 1, as the project is called. This Alliance is known as Tsunami and has had a further meeting, although most communication is via email. A third meeting is pending. Furthermore, we are alert to the fact that nuclear power is now the most expensive way to generate electricity with coal power second. In a country with the amount of sunlight and wind available to power sustainable solutions, we feel very strongly that this should be the direction in which South Africa should be moving. The lower costs of the latter solutions should also be a valid reason to let go of nuclear and coal enabling South Africa to move into the future and improve the health of our communities.


In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Two possible suppliers left for Jordan's first.  Jordan's first nuclear power plant will be supplied by either AtomStroyExport of Russia or the Areva-Mitsubishi Heavy Industries joint venture, Atmea.
The past three years have seen the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) whittle down a list of seven offers from four reactor vendors to the two announced on April 30. Jordanian official news agency Petra reported that the JAEC has decided to continue discussions with AtomStroyExport and the Atmea consortium, describing them as the two suppliers "best qualified" with the technology to best meet Jordan's requirements and needs. Both reactors still under consideration are advanced pressurized water reactors (PWRs) offering enhanced active and passive safety systems. The 1150 MWe Atmea 1 represents an evolution of French standard designs, and received preliminary safety approval from French nuclear regulators earlier this year. The AES-92 is a version of the VVER-1000 with enhanced safety and seismic features. Two AES-92 units are under construction at Koodankulam in India, while the closely related AES-91 is under construction at Tianwan in China. The JAEC will now continue discussions with the two shortlisted suppliers to resolve outstanding technical issues including the site selection process.
World Nuclear News, 30 April 2012

Charges dropped against Vermont Yankee protesters.
Prosecutors in Vermont are dropping criminal trespassing charges against 136 protesters who were arrested March 22,  at the corporate offices of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. The protesters were arrested at the Entergy Corp. offices in Brattleboro. They refused to leave the property while demonstrating on the first day of the Vermont Yankee plant's operation after the expiration of its 40-year state license. On April 26, Windham County State's Attorney Tracy Shriver decided against moving forward with the charges given the limited resources of her office and the courts. "Weighing the seriousness of the criminal offences committed by the protestors against the time and means necessary to proceed with these cases has led me to decide against moving forward with these cases."

The Vermont Yankee plant, located in Vernon, has a new permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operate for 20 more years, but its state license is expired. Over a 1000 people took place in the March 22 protest. (see Nuclear Monitor 741: Showdown for Vermont Yankee).
Brattleboro Reformer, 26 April 2012

Jaitapur: commemoration of death protestor. 
In India, opposition to nuclear projects is large. Besides the more publicized, but still rather unknown struggle at Koodankulam, the struggle at Jaitapur is fierce. On 18 April 2012, it was exactly one year ago that the people’s expression of anger against the proposed 9900 MW Jaitapur nuclear power project at Madban village of Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra was on full display. People were continuously protesting from 2005 on when the land acquisition was set in motion and against environment clearance granted by the central government. A group of furious women ransacked and burnt papers and furniture at the Nate police station. The tension between the police and the people mounted which culminated in the police firing causing the death of Tarbej Sayekar, a 27 year youth.

The people in the Jaitapur locality observed the first death anniversary of martyr Tarbej Sayekar by observing a bandh (Bandh originally a Hindi word meaning 'closed', is a form of protest. During a Bandh, a political party or a community declares a general strike) and once again opposing the Jaitapur power project. On this occasion, between 3 to 5 in the afternoon, a crowd of about 3000 people gathered together and offered their tributes to martyr Tarbej Sayekar by reading the Koran.

Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project is a proposed 9900 MW power project of Nuclear Power

Corporation of India (NPCIL) at Madban village of Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra. On December 6, 2010 agreement was signed for the construction of first set of two third-generation European Pressurized Reactors and the supply of nuclear fuel for 25 years in the presence of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
South Asians Against Nukes (SAAN), 18 April 2012

South Africa: environmental campaigner resigns from regulator.
Long-time environmental campaigner Mariette Liefferink has resigned from the NNR (South Africa's National Nuclear Regulator) citing her frustration over the organization's failure to deal with vulnerable communities exposed to dangerous mining waste. In 2009, the Minister of Energy appointed Liefferink, the chief executive of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, to the board of the regulator to represent the concerns of communities affected by nuclear issues. But now she says: "I see no benefits to remaining on the board because I cannot raise the concerns of communities." "There are 1.6 million people living in informal settlements on or adjacent to radioactive waste... and there are no management plans in place." A number of 36 sites are identified as 'radiological hotspots' in the Wonderfonteinspruit area. These sites are radioactive because of the uraniferous nature of the ore, but "[T]here is still no physical evidence of rehabilitation."

"The communities living in radioactive mine residue areas are mostly informal settlements but no regulatory decisions have been take regarding their protection."

She ends her resignation-letter saying: "It has become evident that there is a fundamental anomaly between what I perceive as the duty of the Board and the NNR and the Board’s and the NNR’s understanding of their duties."
Mariette Lieferinks resignation letter to Energy Minister Peters, 16 April 2012 / Star newspaper, 21 April 2012

PE planned reactor project now decade delayed.
US: Progress Energy -not long ago considered to be in the forefront of the US's nuclear renaissance- said on May 1, it will delay building its planned Levy nuclear plant in Florida by another three years. The announcement sets back the twin reactor project to a 2025-26 time frame from the original planned date of 2015-17 for the reactors to come online and start generating electricity. The company also updated its cost estimate for the planned Florida reactors from US$17 billion. The new estimate is US$19 billion to US$24 billion. The estimates don't include the cost of debt interest, which would likely add hundreds of millions of dollars to the price tag.
The delay in Florida is also taking place in North Carolina. Progress had originally planned to add two reactors at the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in Wake County by 2020-21. But now those proposed reactors are not in the company's 15-year plan, which means they would not be added until 2027 at the earliest, and possibly much later.
.biz (, 1 May 2012

Lithuania: no case for compensation Hitachi before 2015. On May 9, Lithuania's government gave its final approval to several plans aimed at "reducing its dependency on Russian energy sources", including the 1,350 ABWR nuclear power plant which it said could cost up to 7 billion euros (US$9.1 billion).

Lithuania has already initialled an outline plan with Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy with aim to build it by 2020-2022 for about 5 billion euros. However, the Finance Ministry said in a statement the end cost for the project could be 6.8 billion euros.

Around 4 billion euros would be borrowed and the rest would come from the countries backing the project, Lithuania (38%), Latvia (20%) and Estonia (22%), as well as Hitachi (20%). Poland was originally part of the project, but dropped out.

On April 16, Lithuanian Finance Minister Ingrida Šimonytė, said Lithuania has time until March 2015 to cancel the Visaginas plant without having to pay high compensation to the Japanese company Hitachi. "Based on the information that I have, in the initial design stage, before a final decision to invest and build a nuclear power plant, financial risks, which may be incurred by Lithuania is very limited", said Šimonytė.

According to the President of the Parliamentary Committee on Budget and Finance, Kestutis Glaveckasa, however, Lithuania will be forced to pay billions in damages, if the government withdraws from the contract for the construction of nuclear power plant. But Šimonytė stresses that the Ministry of Finance is at the stage of analyzing the concession agreement, the Lithuanian government signed in late March with a Japanese corporation. Later, a draft agreement will be presented to Parliament., 16 April 2012 / Reuters, 9 May 2012

Why the fuzz? Lauvergeon vs Lauvergeon.
Anne Lauvergeon, the former head of France's state-controlled nuclear group Areva accused French President Nicolas Sarkozy of wanting to try to sell a nuclear reactor to  Muammar Gaddafi's Libya at least until the summer of 2010. In interview published on April 10, on the website of L'Express weekly Lauvergeon said that Sarkozy proposed in July 2007 to sell a nuclear reactor to the Gaddafi government to be used to desalinate ocean water. Gaddafi, who ruled Libya for 42 years, was overthrown and killed in October by rebels backed by a NATO force in which French warplanes played a major role. Lauvergeon said she opposed the idea "vigorously". She said: "The state, which was supposed to be responsible, was supporting this folly. Imagine, if we'd done it, how it would look now!" Nothing new, one would imagine, but the interview received some resonance in the international press.

On July 2, 2007 Sarkozy signed an widely publicized global partnership agreement with Libya: the two countries "agree to enhance cooperation on the peaceful use of nuclear energy, possibly leading to a civilian nuclear power program". It paved the way for the potential export by Areva of an EPR reactor to Lybia. There are no documents showing Lauvergeon, at that time head of Areva, opposed such a deal then. Lauvergeon was fired June last year.

Sarkozy was defeated by socialist party candidate Francois Hollande in the presidential elections on May 6, 2012.
Yves Marignac, WISE Paris, 15 November 2007 / Reuters, 10 April 2012.

Metsamor operations officially extended.
The Armenian government formally decided on April 19 to extend operations at the Metsamor VVER 440/230 nuclear power reactor, apparently because there is a delay in its planned replacement by a new facility. "Taking into account possible time frames for the launch of the new atomic energy block in the Republic of Armenia and the need to maintain the country´s energy security and independence during that period, it is necessary to extend the exploitation period of the Power Block No. 2," Energy Minister Armen Movisian said at a cabinet meeting that approved the measure.

The government assigned the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources to draw up by May next year a program of measures to ensure Metsamor´s longer-than-planned operations and their safety. The program will have to be submitted to the government for approval by September 2013. The construction of the new reactor is currently planned in 2013.

Metsamor was due to be decommissioned by September 2016 in accordance with the 30-year design life span. Armenia and in particular the area where Metsamor is located is an extreme seismic active area.
Azatutyan, 19 April 2012