Pylons carry electricity power lines past cooling towers at the Novovoronezh NPP-2 nuclear power station, operated by OAO Rosenergoatom, a unit of Rosatom, in Novovoronezh, Russia. Picture: BLOOMBERG
Pylons carry electricity power lines past cooling towers at the Novovoronezh NPP-2 nuclear power station, operated by OAO Rosenergoatom, a unit of Rosatom, in Novovoronezh, Russia. Picture: BLOOMBERG

WE THINK small is beautiful. We think Africa needs energy solutions that are suited to our circumstances, needs and resources. As such, we represent a group of concerned citizens in Nelson Mandela Bay. We’re opposed to the proposed nuclear build at Thyspunt specifically, and nuclear power as an energy solution for SA and Africa generally.

Our opposition is grounded in the answers to five key questions: Is it necessary? Is it safe? Is the site (Thyspunt for Nuclear-1) the right choice? Have we followed the right process in making the decision? Can we afford it?

We think our energy is better spent on renewables (wind, solar, hydro) that are already doing the job, as well as changing our consumption of electricity.

The question we’re often asked is: What makes nuclear so bad that you need to oppose it so vehemently? Are we scaremongers trying to conjure up images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for our nefarious ends? Are we NIMBYers (not-in-my-back-yard), happy for the luxury of energy as long as it’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind? Or are we simply luddites wanting a return to candles and oxwagons?

Surely we need all forms of low-carbon energy if we’re to combat global warming and meet our greenhouse gas emission targets? Surely coal is enemy number one; anything else pales into comparison? Flying in an aircraft exposes you to more radiation than living next a nuclear plant. Oh, and please, no-one died from radiation at Fukushima, so get over it.

Why do we oppose what at first glance may appear to some as an obvious solution to keeping the lights on whilst saving the planet?

It’s simple. We can’t afford it.

First, nuclear power’s greatest threat to South Africans is that it will redirect our budget priorities away from where our energy system needs investing. Our system is designed on the basis of big coal plants delivering electricity through a centralised grid system. Nuclear will entrench the centralised approach.

Once committed, it will be very hard to turn back. We simply do not have enough money in the bank to afford all energy options. Already we’re delaying connecting some renewables projects to the grid because Eskom doesn’t have the money. Eskom will struggle to "green" its coal plants for the same reason. Money. The state doesn’t have enough. We need to choose wisely.

Second, we cannot afford the actual cost to build the plants, even if we get it built into a fee over 30 years. Most estimates range between R500bn and R1.4-trillion. Because much of the plant is manufactured elsewhere, every time the rand devalues the price goes up. So any nuclear deal is likely to be on a build, own, operate (Boo) basis.

Rosatom, for instance, (or a joint venture of some kind) will build it, manage it and recover its investment (and profit) by charging an inflated rate for electricity for a stipulated period. For example, Hinkley Point in the UK has agreed to double the current electricity price (index-linked) for a fixed period of 35 years. Boo comes at a further price: no risk to the builder/seller — the buyer carries all risk. If things go wrong SA foots the bill, whether that involves additional costs due to delays in building, or in clean-up and reparations in the event of a nuclear accident.

Finally, we cannot afford the consumption model nuclear supports. We have to reduce the amount of electricity we consume per capita. We consume electricity without thought of what it costs our country and planet to produce it. South Africans take very little responsibility for ensuring we use energy wisely — we switch it on and off as and how we need it. Renewables are changing that mindset; ordinary citizens are becoming "prosumers", but that change requires investment.

Nuclear will hijack our fiscus and it won’t give it back for 100 years.

Is nuclear really the best choice available to us? Bob Dylan had it down pat — "The answer is blowing in the wind!"

Koekemoer represents community organisation NoPEnuke