The costs of government’s nuclear plans
Secrecy surrounds the costs of nuclear projects
Due to the secrecy that government maintains around the costs of large electricity infrastructure projects, it is neither clear what it will cost to extend the plant life of Koeberg nor what it will cost to build 2500MW new nuclear. Government has not disclosed the costs related to nuclear to the public whose taxpayer contributions and payment of electricity tariffs funds Eskom.
Right to access to information denied
The Constitution provides for the right of access to information by the public and the media. Section 32 of the bill of rights says that “everyone has the right of access to any information held by the state and any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights”.
All residents in South Africa contribute to the public purse, whether through paying income tax and/or through contributing to Value-Added Tax when buying goods and services. Public money is meant to be used for public good to fund service delivery and ensure that the rights enshrined in the Constitution are realised. The public interest is clear when it comes to knowing the costs of electricity generation projects and yet Eskom habitually turns down information requests, citing commercial reasons.
Costs of final disposal of high-level radioactive nuclear waste unknown Koeberg Nuclear Power Station produces about 30 tons of high-level radioactive waste per year, and all of it is currently stored at Koeberg – over 1000 tons of waste. Koeberg’s high-level nuclear waste such as used fuel is stored on site at Koeberg in used fuel pools and in casks. This waste can pose serious risks to humans and the environment. If not stored properly, high-level waste can melt, and ‘go critical’, which would result in a nuclear explosion. Koeberg’s storage capacity was designed for its current plant life and is therefore nearing full storage capacity.
Since 1986, the final disposal solution for the high-level of nuclear waste from Koeberg has been anticipated ‘within 5 years’. However, the issue of final waste disposal repeatedly gets delayed. This is because if it were to be costed, it will become apparent that nuclear energy is more costly than nuclear industry experts assert it is. If research on final disposal is done, the costs will become apparent and will have to be included in the country’s Integrated Resource Plan costings.
Eskom bailouts take money away from education and health spending Eskom has received a number of bailouts that run into the billions. These bailouts are largely to meet loan repayments such as for the loans to build the Medupi and Kusile Coal Powered Plants. The bailouts continually result in money that could have been spent on education, health, clean energy or other areas of spending being diverted.
Unresolved issues of state capture at Eskom
A 2012 Special Investigating Unit (SIU) report revealed that Eskom spent a massive R14.5tn for emergency coal during the course of load shedding in 2008. The SIU report revealed that South Africa’s 2008 loadshedding was a self-created emergency, which appeared to be partly engineered by senior employees at Eskom in order to sign emergency contracts to benefit coal suppliers. source: City Press. March 2019 – Eskom’s massive coal splurge. Since then South Africans have been rocked by revelations of state capture at Eskom. Eskom has not yet proven that it can be trusted not to continue squandering public money.
The risks associated with nuclear energy
Safety at Koeberg during a time of a pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic creates a risk for the operations of nuclear plants all over the world. The safety case of Koeberg may be less viable under Covid-19. When key people are off sick, the issue at a nuclear plant is that they have very specific expertise that cannot be replaced in a short amount of time. With travel restrictions due to the pandemic, overseas experts are also limited from being able to come to another country to support.
We may think we are in a bad situation now, with the Corona virus outbreak, the economy and electricity shortages, but if a nuclear incident occurred at Koeberg which required evacuation, it would be even worse. It is simply not worth the risk.
Evacuation of Koeberg would affect over a hundred thousand people An evacuation of 20 km would conservatively affect about 126 000 people (according to the 2011 census). South Africa has set its Urgent Protective Action Zone at a 16km radius around Koeberg. An evacuation of people from the 16 km zone would probably affect 60 to 100 000 people depending on the current populations of Atlantis, Parklands, Du Noon and Melkbos.
Evacuation is not short-term, it can permanently displace people If there were a nuclear disaster at Koeberg, the evacuation required would not be a short-term evacuation. The examples of Fukushima and Chernobyl indicate that evacuation can be permanent for entire communities.
In the Fukushima disaster, a 20 km evacuation zone was permanently declared and in 2018 there were still 28 000 people looking for homes who had been evacuated from that zone.
In Chernobyl, in 1986 one day after the explosion, the Soviet authorities proceeded to the evacuation of 116,000 residents living within 30 km around the damaged plant. The area was evacuated in emergency within 30 hours and declared prohibited. The exclusion zone has since remained largely uninhabited, though defying the proscriptions, about 500 people, mostly elderly people, returned to live there, preferring not to leave the villages and the environment. If one adds to these 116,000 inhabitants, people outside the zone who were also evacuated later, it is a total of some 350,000 people who had to suffer the trauma of uprooting imposed overnight and relocation source.
Disadvantaged communities would be worst affected
Vulnerable and disadvantaged communities in the Koeberg fall out zone would be severely affected. Residents of Atlantis and Du Noon would be very severely affected if they suddenly had to permanently evacuate.
The evacuation plan involves the use of Golden Arrow and MyCiti buses for those who do not have private motor vehicles. It does not however consider that bus drivers may not be willing to drive into a radioactive area to evacuate people. In the event of a severe nuclear disaster, it could mean the bus drivers sacrificing their lives to evacuate people who would be exposed to radiation. If bus drivers are unwilling to do so, people who rely on public transport could be stranded in the evacuation zone. Iodine is stored by the municipality, and is therefore not readily available to the public in the immediate vicinity of the plant.
Nuclear safety in South Africa
Broadly, protective measures against nuclear risks include:
- Shelter in place
Emergency planning zones
South Africa makes provision for three emergency planning zones that fall within the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidelines. The IAEA guidelines do not specify a particular radius, but a range of distances. For the UPZ (urgent protective action) it should be between 5 and 30km. South Africa has set its Urgent Protective Action Zone at a 16km radius around Koeberg. It is up to the boundary of this zone that South Africa would evacuate residents if there is a nuclear disaster. The area around the KNPS is divided into three nuclear safety zones:
|Nuclear safety zone||Distance from reactor||Risk level||Evacuation arrangements|
|Inner emergency planning zone
or Precautionary Action Zone (PAZ)
|Within 5km||High Risk – people in this area would be at the highest risk of radiation exposure.||Evacuation must be possible within 4 hours|
|Intermediate emergency planning zone
or Urgent Protective Action Zone (UPAZ)
|5 to 16 km||Medium Risk – people could potentially be harmed by direct radiation exposure.||Evacuation must be possible within 16 hours|
|Outer emergency planning zone
or Longer Term Protective Action Zone (LPAZ)
|Within 80 km||“Safe” – Radioactive materials may contaminate water supplies, crops and livestock||Will not be evacuated|
Neighbourhoods close to Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant
These neighbourhoods fall within the Nuclear safety zones that will be evacuated if a nuclear disaster occurred at Koeberg:
- Du Noon