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We will be badly burnt by fallout from a nuke deal

The Times Editorial | 2016-12-14 08:04:57.0

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Nuclear fission is a neat way to generate power. Using a tiny neutron within an atom to split its proton and release massive amounts of energy while creating new neutrons to drive a self-sustaining chain reaction has elegance, even beauty, about it.

But it brings with it great danger, as Chernobyl and Fukushima showed.

In South Africa the danger is not so much hot uranium leakage as economic meltdown. Here politicians are lusting for nuclear reactors and we know from bitter experience we can't trust them with anything so explosive.

Public pushback to the government's plans for a string of nuclear plants has been considerable. That resistance has been mainly on an economic and anti-corruption platform, not environmental worries as in many other countries.

Quite simply, there is deep suspicion that the nuclear programme is driven by personal avarice and power-broking at the highest level.

That suspicion grows out of the plain fact that the economic case for nuclear is weak.

Eskom is being used to bulldoze through a plan probably hatched in Pretoria, Moscow and a Saxonwold shebeen.

A few weeks ago Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson published the "base case" for South Africa's energy mix, admitting the country will not need any nuclear power before 2037 and no new plants need to be built just yet. Undaunted, Eskom, to which parliament has given wide powers to steer the nuke ship, said yesterday it would soon call for declarations of interest to build six nuclear reactors.

Someone is in a tearing hurry to push a deal through - before the political landscape changes, perhaps.

But, with a cost estimate of R1-trillion for the full nuke whammy, Eskom's bungling of the Medupi coal plant, a credit rating downgrade for the utility last week, the example of arms deal chicanery and, most importantly, an economy on its knees, it would be folly of the highest order to go ahead.

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