Stop secrecy on nuclear so South Africa doesn’t become Chernobyl — Outa

Outa has called for more transparency in South Africa’s nuclear energy industry to help keep the country safe from nuclear disasters such as those at Chernobyl and Fukushima.

The civil action group states that South Africa’s National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) must be strengthened in line with international standards to help protect the public, and transparency is crucial in this.

As part of this, Outa has made a submission to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy supporting stronger regulation as outlined in the National Nuclear Regulator Amendment Bill.

“Outa believes that transparency is the key to a thriving nuclear industry as the absence of transparency will result in circumvented accountability at the expense not only of the national fiscus, but to the citizens of South Africa,” Outa said in its submission.

This comes as Eskom is currently conducting work on the Koeberg nuclear power station to extend its lifespan, and energy minister Gwede Mantashe is pushing for a new nuclear power build.

“These are all issues which underline the need for a strong, independent industry regulator to ensure the sector is run in line with international standards and best practice,” Outa said.

The organisation maintained South Africa needed to address a tradition of nuclear industry secrecy and an atomic waste legacy left by apartheid.

“Because of our nuclear legacy, we need a strong governance structure to keep South Africa safe from nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima,” said Outa parliamentary and energy advisor, Liz McDaid.

McDaid says the proposed tightening of the NNR Act through the amendment is a welcome step, as it could also be crucial to block corruption.

Liz McDaid, Outa parliamentary and energy advisor, standing in front of Koeberg Power Station near Cape Town.

Outa’s proposals include that the law be amended to prevent the government from calling for public comment over the holiday season.

The organisation said “one of those dark corners” is the financial liability that nuclear facilities took on.

“Eskom has no money for decommissioning but is liable for the bill. For example, there is only R16.2 billion set aside for decommissioning Koeberg, although R42 billion to R64 billion is needed.”

“The facilities, costs and safety of waste disposal are similarly hidden from the public,” it added.

Outa stated the regulator needed to be empowered to protect the public and the environment.

“This is an onerous burden and, as is the case with ownerless mines, the culprits are often nowhere to be found when the debts must be repaired,” Outa said.

“The NNR board includes a civil society representative but, without clear guidelines on the role, this is a meaningless appointment,

“The fact that the constitution of proper quorum is absent from the proposed amendments to the Bill may imply that the civil society representative is overruled more often than not, rendering such position superficial and meaningless.

New steam generators en route to Koeberg Power Station last year.

Outa added transparency would also ensure that South Africans were not duped into paying for something without knowing the cost, as with the Medupi and Kusile power stations.

“Although Eskom has applied to the NNR to extend Koeberg’s lifespan to avoid a shutdown in 2024, there is nothing in the public arena about how much this will cost the electricity user and ultimately the taxpayer,” Outa warned.

Outa, therefore, intends to submit an application to Eskom under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, asking for the total cost estimates of the Koeberg lifetime extension.

“It may be that Eskom would be better off closing down Koeberg and investing in cheaper electricity generation than running up ever-increasing refurbishment costs to keep a 40-year-old plant running,” Outa said.

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Stop secrecy on nuclear so South Africa doesn’t become Chernobyl — Outa