The Catholic Church in South Africa called on government on Tuesday to suspend its nuclear procurement plans and hold a referendum on the issue as a matter of urgency.
The Justice and Peace Commission for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) said in a statement that the economic and safety risks of the nuclear option outweigh its economic benefits.
The Department of Energy (DoE) on Saturday formally announced cabinet’s decision to go ahead with the procurement of nuclear energy. A government gazette released on December 21 also approved the next step, which will allow the department to call for quotes for the 9 600 MW new build project.
Government should concentrate its efforts and fiscal resources on renewable energy, according to the SACBC.
The commission said the DoE and Treasury have yet to produce evidence to show that nuclear procurement is affordable to the country and its consumers.
The commission also pointed to the safety risks and the threat to human life.
“Although the probability of a nuclear accident is relatively low, the consequences of such an accident cause health hazards for thousands of people and render hundreds of kilometres of land uninhabitable and unsuitable for any use for decades,” said Bishop Abel Gabuza, chairperson of Justice and Peace Commission.
“Considering the enormity of the damage when an accident occurs, the dangers of nuclear energy to human life will always remain very high,” he said.
“The commission has therefore appealed to the government to urgently call for a nuclear referendum.”
“Given the enormity of the risks that the South African government is asking its citizens to bear through the nuclear option, including the enormous safety risks and economic risks, it is only fair that the government directly consults its people on the matter,” said Gabuza. “A referendum is the best instrument for realising the common good on this important matter.”
The commission explained that in June 2011, the Italian government conducted a similar referendum to poll its citizens on its plans to generate 25% of the country’s electricity from nuclear power by 2030. The referendum rejected government plans for nuclear procurement.
“If our government truly believes that its nuclear decision is serving the best interests of the majority of South Africans, it should not be afraid to emulate the Italian example and open up the matter to a national referendum before the formal bidding process commences,” said Gabuza.