By Piet Human and Rodney Anderson
We were fortunate to have had the opportunity to listen to Vladimir Slivyak on Saturday 8 August here in the Overstrand. Vladimir, a member of the Russian environmental group Ecodefense; an organisation with a 25 year history in protecting the environment against the ravages of, amongst others, nuclear power plants. (http://www.eco-action.org/dod/no6/ecodefense_russia.htm). He is a guest of Earthlife Africa speaking to various groups (such as Bantamsklip Organisation) who are voicing their opposition to the proposed nuclear power deal between Russia and South Africa.
He highlighted some sobering facts:
- The Russian nuclear power industry is an aging industry. It operates 33 plants in Russia; most of them well beyond their design date. The Russian nuclear regulator Rostekhnadzor reported on 39 incidents (accidents) in 2013, about the annual average. The reasons for these incidents were ‘mismanagement, defects in equipment and design errors’. Some of these plants have been given 15-year extensions on their operational life and will have to be decommissioned soon. The industry does not have the experience or the finances available to do this. The cost of decommissioning is estimated at US$ 3 billion per plant.
- Despite regular promises for over 50 years that a solution for nuclear waste will be found, it is just stored. According to Russian Government reports, around 500 million tons of radioactive waste has accumulated over the years at various sites in Russia. Once radioactive materials are released into the environment, we have no realistic and viable way to manage it.
- Rosatom ambitiously and unrealistically claims that it has 27 orders for new builds. The record is less rosy. Presently reactors are built in China, Belarus and in Russia. Proposed builds in Turkey, Vietnam, Finland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Bangladesh are delayed or cancelled. It is also reported that Rosatom are negotiating with Iran, India, Kazakhstan and of course South Africa to get more orders. Their capacity to build new plants is reportedly limited to one plant per year.
- The economics for nuclear power are also not adding-up. No private sector investors invest in nuclear power. This is despite serious attempts by Rosatom over the last number of years to attract private investment. The Russian Government and its tax payers are the only investors. Nuclear power is not cheap; the final costs for recent builds overran their budgets by 10-25%.
- Rosatom’s selling pitch is that their reactors are cheaper than western ones is not true given the delays. Renewable energy is also now cheaper than nuclear.
- Corruption: In 2010 a study by Transparency International and Ecodefence found 83 violations in 200 purchasing agreements by Rosatom (41%). A few years later, 270 Rosatom employees, including some senior managers, were fired as a result of corruption charges.
This deal makes no sense! It makes no economic sense, it is not a solution that will solve our electricity problems (our own Department of Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity revised in 2013 proposed that nuclear should not be taken up). It is too risky and it will do damage to our environment and the social and economic fabric of the Overstrand. One then needs to ask: “Who are the winners and the losers?”
Vladimir’s talk and his paper (“Russian Nuclear Industry Overview”) is of particular relevance to us here in the Overberg. He emphasised that the construction of such projects is enormously destructive with dire consequences for the local community and environment. Imagine 500 heavy trucks a day transporting steel and concrete etc., 1 000 or more foreign workers living in and around Gansbaai (certainly not many jobs for local citizens). This lasting for ten years or more and in the end likely a useless ‘white elephant’ on our doorstep.
The Overberg, and particularly, the Overstrand would have to carry the brunt of this large scale project. The irony of all this, is that, it will not solve our country’s electricity problems. We have ample sun, wind and gravity that have already proven to be the solution for our electricity needs.