15 May 2013

South Africa: SA Minister Peters Fails to Grasp the Moment

press release

In her budget speech on May 14, 2013, Minister Peters and the Department of Energy not only failed to seize the opportunity for a just transition to clean energy but also remained wedded to the planned new nuclear build. This shows both a lack of imagination but also a casual disregard for the facts and the financial strain it will place on South Africa.

Minister Peters quite rightly pointed out the many of our current coal-fired power stations are due for decommissioning from 2023. Many of these plants are emitting harmful chemicals into our air and have turned the Highveld's air into a toxic cocktail.

In this area where ten of the Eskom coal fired power stations are, ambient air quality standards are repeatedly exceeded. In the winter of 2010, ambient air quality standards protective of health were exceeded on 570 occasions. From 2008 to 2011 air pollution in the form of particulate matter has increased, exceeding both South African standards and the World Health Organisation's recommended standards. "For the benefit of cheap electricity to BHP Billiton and other corporates, local people have to suffer ill health and early mortality. There is no democratic justice in this. These power stations must be decommissioned sooner than 2023," states Bobby Peek, Director of groundWork, Friends of the Earth, South Africa [1].

After reminding us of the upcoming decommissioning of these plants, a fact that has been known since the 1998 Energy White Paper, the Minister then proceeded to extol the 'virtues' of nuclear power. It is far from clear what these virtues are, especially as a recent National Planning Commission report has indicated that South Africa doesn't need to make a decision on nuclear power for the next 10 to 15 years, that nuclear power is our most costly generation choice, and that we can meet our climate change commitments without nuclear power. In fact, it seems that the Department of Energy is the only sector of South African society that wants nuclear power and the inevitable higher electricity prices and omnipresent risk of a major nuclear accident.

Furthermore, it is clear that the Department still does not know what the cost of nuclear power will be and neither does it have a plan to deal with the high-level radioactive waste from Koeberg, let alone another six nuclear plants. The Department of Energy continues to lock us into nuclear power without being in possession of all the facts about nuclear.

Tristen Taylor, Project Coordinator of Earthlife Africa Jhb, [2] states, "In some ways, we are a lucky country when it comes to electricity generation. Just when we need to replace the Apartheid-era coal-fired power stations, renewable energy technologies have evolved to the stage where they can provide secure and cost-effective electricity. At the moment, onshore wind is already cheaper in South Africa than the power the Medupi power station will produce. Concentrated solar plants can provide mid-merit and baseload power through advances in storage technologies."

The Minister is missing the opportunity to ramp up the clean electricity options. Renewable energy does not poison our air with mercury, particulate matter and cancer causing chemicals, produce carbon dioxide, comes with no risks of catastrophic accidents, produces no waste for future generations to pay for, and does so at a lower cost. This is the opportunity for a better country that the Minister continues to miss, blinded by her infatuation with nuclear power.

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[1] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation based in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, working with community people from around South Africa, and increasingly Southern Africa. groundWork assists civil society on issues relating to environmental justice and human rights, focusing particularly on Air Quality, Climate and Energy Justice, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Friends of the Earth International. Web: www.groundwork.org.za

[2] Earthlife Africa is a non-profit organisation, founded in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1988, that seeks a better life for all people without exploiting other people or degrading their environment. Earthlife Africa Jhb specialises in energy and climate change issues. Web: www.earthlife.org.za

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