What would you do for One Trillion Rand, or ZAR 1,000,000,000,000? Or perhaps I should rather ask these questions: What would Companies do to take a slice of a ZAR 1,000,000,000,000 cake? What would politicians do ensure some gravy from a ZAR 1,000,000,000,000 train?
Well, the cake is yellow and the train loads are fissile.
This exorbitant number, almost 12x the cost of the Arms Deal, is the cost of expenditure being planned for South Africa’s future nuclear build programme – six reactors by 2030, totalling around 9.6GW installed capacity With such big numbers on the table, just imagine what lobbying to government and other ‘stakeholders’ has been going on over the last years and months?
One doesn’t have to imagine; one can just look at the activities of Areva and the French government, for example, Sarkozy’s visit in 2008 with an entourage Areva, EDF and Alstom (all big players in nukes), just after the closing of SA’s first tender for nukes (footnote 2: Fortunately at that time the tender was shelved, as I understand it, due to the exorbitant proposed costs). Or China? And there are many other examples of influence in the public domain, leaving the imagination to wonder about what is happening behind closed doors.
The lobbying hasn’t stopped
For sure, the lobbying hasn’t stopped since the canned nuke plans of 2008 (with such a Lotto prize on the table, why would it?), and neither have the plans for nukes. Many heralded the latest Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2010) as a coup for Renewables, with 6325 MW by 2019, but that is a misreading of the IRP. Proposed yearly energy production from Renewables by 2030 is just 9%, compared to Nuclear’s 20%. The IRP2010 is a coup for Nuclear, dressed up in a clean, green disguise.
So the first issue is, assuming that nuclear even is a good idea, how do we hold our politicians, businesspeople and dealmakers accountable when such a big check is on the table? The nuclear industry is fraught with secrecy, and considered the most corrupt industry after the arms industry (although of course we all know the two go hand in hand).
Who is going to ensure that the inevitable corruption gets arrested at the station? At the moment, those activists normally keeping an eye on the nuke peeps are partying on the Renewables branch line, while just outside the carriage window the nuclear express train is about to take off.
Not a good idea
But nuclear is not a good idea. I have argued long and hard on this topic before, but to summarise:
- Nuclear cannot help climate change fast enough
The building of nuclear power stations has a massive carbon footprint, as does the future management of waste
Any CO2 reductions achieved in the operational phase of the power station are brought to market way too late in the larger scheme of CO2 emission reductions we require
- Nuclear makes no sense financially
Gas power is so much cheaper that the savings between gas and nuclear can be used to more than offset the carbon emissions of gas
Solar power and wind power are now cheaper than nuclear power
The massive cost of nuclear is going to exacerbate the increasing electricity cost
- The traditional grid model is dead
Base-load and peaking-power arguments no longer have merit. We do not need big continuous power plants any more. The smart grid has arrived. IT + distributed renewables is the future.
- Decommissioning costs are absolutely horrendous, as Germany and the UK are finding out. This is accost we dump on our children as it is not reflected in the already exorbitant cost of nuclear power.
- The nuclear industry is invariably caught up with the arms industry and corruption.
- The long term waste management issues have not been solved, and this is a cost burden for future generations to bear
- Fusion and/or other futuristic nuclear technologies are not yet commercially available, nor are these the technologies we are talking about.
- Nukes will not create jobs in South Africa anywhere near the scale that distributed renewables could and most of the cash & jobs will go offshore anyway.
- And lastly, but not least, the possibility of a Black Swan, an unpredictable event, an unknown unknown, leading to Nuclear catastrophe. 99.9999% safe is not safe enough, as the risk from human error (Chernobyl) and the unknown or unexpected (Fukishima) is always there, even if not quantifiable on paper.
What needs to happen
At the very least, we need to know what is going on, and what is going to go on, in the Nuclear sector.
- Government needs to open the energy industry in general and the nuclear industry in particular to transparent, independent review and assessment. Secret deals and tenders (even the Renewables request for Proposals has secrecy clauses) need to be scrapped.
- Information on lobbying organisations, companies and individuals (such as Kelvin Kemm of Stratek Business Strategy Consultants), and their expenditure, needs to be brought in to the public domain. Their sphere of influence needs to be analysed and critiqued.
- The nuclear lobby should not be allowed to hijack the carbon agenda and carbon funding.
- The secrecy bill currently being promulgated needs to be scrapped – I can almost guarantee the nuclear procurement process will be listed under this bill, the public’s ability to scrutinise what is happening will be limited.
But who is going to fight for this? A strong public lobby group needs to be formed, perhaps driven by the WWF and/or Earthlife, to ensure the public’s voice is heard. But I also fear for the public’s apathy, and perhaps the view that there are large battles to be fought.
Toxic food for thought
It is all toxic food for thought. There is perhaps another light at the end of the tunnel. The Renewables/Smart Grid train, although perhaps not as rich in kick-backs, is coming fast. It may well be that it arrives so fast that, as people & companies implement their own energy systems, they end up making large nuclear irrelevant. It cannot happen too soon.
By Frank Spencer, CEO of Emergent Energy