Nuclear deal is nothing but a fool's gamble with our future

23 October 2016 - 02:03 By Jay Naidoo
Koeberg, as seen from Melkbosstrand in Cape Town. More than three decades since it came online, it remains the only nuclear power station in Africa, where countries such as Kenya and Nigeria are increasingly adopting renewable energy.
Koeberg, as seen from Melkbosstrand in Cape Town. More than three decades since it came online, it remains the only nuclear power station in Africa, where countries such as Kenya and Nigeria are increasingly adopting renewable energy.
Image: SHELLEY CHRISTIANS

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At the heart of the cancerous rot in our state is the greed of a predatory faction. In their unceasing efforts to enrich themselves, they are targeting the management of mega-projects, our state-owned enterprises, government procurements and, in particular, the proposed nuclear deal.

This is a nuclear deal that we don't need. The proposal has little to do with our energy security, given that our growth projections have been torpedoed by a rudderless leadership and policy uncertainty and do not match the energy requirements of our future economy.

It brings no long-term benefits of job creation or local industrial development - this in a country where already one in four South Africans are formally unemployed.

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A more efficient economy is one that is first and foremost based on reducing waste (demand), then on diversity in its sources (supply).

Going with the nuclear option - at a time when most of the industrialised world is abandoning fossil fuels and nuclear energy - with all its inherent environmental threats and risks, is a fool's gamble. We see major global financial investment rapidly switching to the renewables industry, specifically to solar-based solutions.

One has to ask: which serious observer can believe there is no political agenda in pushing nuclear energy so strongly?

In a clear case of curious timing, on the very day that frivolous charges were read out on national TV against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Energy Tina Joemat-Pettersson announced that the nuclear build - which we don't need or want - would be led by Eskom - which we don't trust or believe - and would not need the permission of the National Treasury.

In my mind, the current team at the Treasury stands between the predatory elite and the state coffers. Let us examine the facts.

In the next 10 years, rapidly growing renewable energy sources all over the world will add more than 100 nuclear reactors' worth of electricity. This assumes no advances in wind, solar, geothermal and biomass efficiency - and if we assume that rapid innovation in technology will continue apace, major advances will be made.

Coal-fired and nuclear mega-projects are always expensive, behind schedule and way beyond their original cost estimates. One just needs to look at our experience with the Medupi and Kusile coal-fired power stations.

So let's ask ourselves the following big question: why are renewables growing faster than nuclear everywhere, including in the US, China, Japan and Europe?

This is happening not just because of militant environmental groups or community action, even though these are important. The real answers lie in three factors: Risk. Cost. Time.

block_quotes_start It is also the start of a massive divestment movement that is only going to increase in speed. As Michael Bloomberg said at the Paris climate meeting: the money is moving block_quotes_end

In terms of jobs, investment in renewables is about 300% more effective than fossil fuels or nuclear.

This is what the Pear Energy team headed by Robert Pollin, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, had to say: "The basic facts are simple. When we invest $1-million [R14-million] in building the green economy in the United States, it creates 17 jobs, compared to five in nuclear and fossil fuels.

"That's 300% more jobs. And it reduces our dependence on dirty and dangerous oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear power."

The World Coal Association, a lobby group, argues that coal provides seven million jobs. It uses fear tactics to scare governments and trade unions into believing that real jobs are at stake and that renewables will not deliver these numbers.

It is just another big lie. According a recent International Renewable Energy Agency study, solar, hydro and wind companies, even though they are still in their infancy, employ 9.2million people. So, let's follow the money.

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The massive success of the climate marches across the world, coupled with a commitment from our political leaders to deal with the climate deadline, forced governments to agree to the Paris Protocol in December last year, setting enforceable limits on carbon emissions.

And it is now legally in force, given that the US , China, India and the EU - along with more than 55% of the world's nations, representing over 60% of total current emissions - have passed it into law.

It was an unprecedented demonstration of global solidarity about an issue no one can hide from.

Even the global elite, part of the 1% - such as the Rockefeller family, who made their original fortunes in oil - have divested close to $50-billion away from fossil fuels and directed the money into renewables and green energy business. This amount should rapidly rise to $150-billion in two years.

That's big money, even in global terms. It is also the start of a massive divestment movement that is only going to increase in speed. As Michael Bloomberg said at the Paris climate meeting: the money is moving.

Pension funds from all corners of the world are also going green. Universities, churches and workers' funds are all hiking the oil-less trail. Since the landmark Paris decision, student bodies have been putting more and more pressure on their respective institutions to walk away from big oil and coal.

Much of the moneyed class understands clearly that fossil and nuclear fuels are soon to become stranded assets because international compliance and law will only make it more and more difficult to exploit them.

They know that nuclear is a dying industry, and they had better get their money out as soon as possible.

The next big move could be putting a price on carbon. According the World Bank's latest numbers, more than 1000 major businesses and 73 countries - which represent half of global emissions - favour putting a price on carbon.

Nations such as China, Russia and those in the EU are in, as are Statoil from Norway, Pfizer, ArcelorMittal and insurance giant Allianz.

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Be it through a basic added tax put directly on carbon emissions or via a cap-and-trade approach where polluters pay per level of emissions, there is no doubt anymore: it will happen. More than two-thirds of Africa's population, 700 million people, live without electricity.

On a continent where we have more than 300 days of sunlight a year, we shouldn't hesitate for a second about the use of solar in all its forms. That's why Nigeria is investing in solar mini-grids and Kenya is leading the way in geothermal energy.

The investment we can drive to an energy mix that will maximise our greatest assets - the ever-present sunshine and the potential of solar power, our hydro, wind and geothermal potential - will have long-lasting effects on our workforce and our overall economy.

These are the game-changers in delivering South Africa's energy security.

Would anyone with a brain, honesty and commitment to South Africa's long-term future even consider the nuclear option as a superior choice to renewable energy? Of course not.

The future is decidedly with the renewables. So why are we rushing headlong into spending an insane amount money we don't have on nuclear power stations, when the world, and common sense, are clearly telling us that is a terrible decision? I've yet to hear a really good rationale for it, and I suspect there isn't one.

The time for us to stand up and put South Africa first is now. We have to oppose the nuclear deal now. We have to stand up and defend the integrity of the Treasury team now.

I will.

Will you?

Naidoo is a trade union activist and former minister of communications

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