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South African government approves Environmental Impact Assessment PBMR

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(July 11, 2003) On 25 June, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) approved the Environmental Impact Assessment of the planned Pebble-Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR). It is an important step, but not the last, for the construction of the prototype PBMR at the Koeberg NPP site near Cape Town. South African NGOs will appeal the decision and are also preparing a court case later this year to prevent construction.

(590.5529) Earthlife Africa Cape Town - In May, Earthlife Africa went to court to ask the judge to grant an urgent interdict which would prevent the DEAT from making a decision on the Environmental Impact Assessment process. Earthlife Africa believes that under the South African constitution, we had a right to be heard by the decision-maker (the government) before they made their decision.

The matter was delayed twice but on 3 June, the court found that the matter was not urgent and we would have to go to court in the normal way. A court date with the DEAT was set for 9 September.

The Record of Decision (ROD) of the DEAT is an important step, but not the last before the PBMR can be built. The South African Cabinet has to allow electricity utility Eskom, the state-owned utility that is leading the project, to proceed with construction. Sources said that the Cabinet might wait with such a decision until the 30-day public comment period on the ROD has expired.
The Department of Minerals & Energy has to finalize a national nuclear waste policy, which must be in place before construction of the PBMR can begin. The National Nuclear Regulator must issue a nuclear construction license and authorize the project from a safety viewpoint. Eskom expects to submit a safety analysis report in first-quarter 2004. The National Nuclear Regulator is expected to take about one year to review the report. First construction work on the site could begin in first-quarter 2005 and will take 2-3 years before the reactor can start fuel loading.
NuclearFuel, 3 July 2003

On 26 June, DEAT issued a press release approving the Environmental Impact Assessment, thereby clearing the first hurdle for the 110 MW prototype PBMR and an associated fuel plant at the Pelindaba site near Pretoria. The record of decision has a list of conditions including that there must be a waste policy in place before the PBMR construction could begin, including a decommissioning plan and long-term management of high-level waste and spent fuel. In our opinion, this is meaningless - leaving such a critical issue to be decided after the PBMR has the go-ahead is putting the cart before the horse!

The press statement released by DEAT also clearly stated that the Department did not regard waste or safety as environmental issues and referred them to the Department of Mineral and Energy Affairs (waste), and to the National Nuclear Regulator (safety) separate processes respectively.

The present authorization is valid for 5 years, i.e. if construction does not begin within five years the authorization will be invalidated.

In the opinion of Earthlife, there are many other issues some regarding the low level of public participation, the independence of the consultants, as well as the health risks and emergency procedures.

Interested and affected parties have 30 days to appeal to the minister to overturn the decision. The deadline for this appeal is 25 July. The appeal must be completed on a special form available from the DEAT. We would urge all people who qualify to appeal. Full details of the appeal process as well as a summary of the issues which Earthlife Africa will be appealing will be available on our website after 16 July.

The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) who are Earthlife Africa's lawyers are working on the details of the appeal and there is also a need to resolve the 9 September court issue. Further court action has not been ruled out.


  • Earthlife Africa Cape Town; Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, 25 June 2003,
  • Consortium for the PBMR Environmental Impact Assessment, 27 June 2003

Contact:Liz McDaid at Earthlife Africa Cape Town, P.O. Box 176, Observatory 7935, Cape Town, South Africa
Tel: +27 82 731 5643